You’re not the only one whose had a bad year. For the Florida based surfer punk group, appropriately named Surfer Blood, disaster has become all too familiar. With a reputation for bad news, the band has been fighting to reemerge fresh. In partial tribute to the loss of a member, Thomas Fekete, and in tribute to their own struggles, the band summoned up their creativity and energy to release a fantastic new album. While Snowdonia inevitably captures the group’s endurance, it also manages to portray a certain sunny-goodness that keeps things light and fun.
In spite of preceding drama, trauma, and loss, Surfer Blood has managed to rebuild and drum up an absolutely thrilling release. Snowdonia is fun and poppy but with a lingering sense of melancholy on the horizon. Sitting somewhere between surf punk and twee pop, Snowdonia really defines itself through the cheery, often danceable guitar lines mixed with heartfelt but simple lyrics. While combinations like these are tricky to pull off, Surfer Blood’s execution is pretty superb. While the album doesn’t offer any significant blockbusters, Snowdonia manages to capture a sort of last days of summer atmosphere. With the occasional sense of impending doom and the persistently excited guitars, Snowdonia makes for a fantastic pre-Spring listen.
Snowdonia opens with a dedicatedly surfy jam, “Matter of Time.” The pace is quick although with a simple percussive line. The guitars provide a beachy texture as vocals push the song to each chorus, followed by consecutive guitar licks that build their way into a solo. “Matter of Time” feels a lot like another sunny day, and also, Another Sunny Day. While the song is bright and beachy in that 2010-slacker/surfer punk way, it’s also a bit wound down with fuzzed out vocals and a poppiness reminiscent of certain indie groups. It’s a great way to open up the album; and the band keeps things light well into their next jam. “Frozen” keeps it fast and fun. The song has more of a rock ‘n’ roll vibe, with a more involved percussion and fuzzed out guitar chords. Toss in the same soft vocals spun with some groovy little guitar lines; and by the time you get to the chorus, “Frozen in the armory,” Surfer Blood has taken a pretty simple jam, instilled it with some je ne sais quoi, and crafted a perfect little indie rock ditty.
About halfway through, Snowdonia pulls down the mood just a bit –but in exchange tosses in some more interesting decisions. “Six Flags in F or G” begins the descent with some low, western-ready, moody guitar strings. The vocals feel distant and tortured, “Where I used to look for comfort is cursed hollow cold.” It’s an intense switch-up but performed gracefully. While the song is without a doubt a great expulsion of grief, it stands out as a fantastic listen on its own. Throughout the five minute listen, “Six Flags in F or G” makes several transition into more friendly, somewhat melancholic moments that feature uplifting lines –“Right now it’s overkill, but in six months it will be fine, even charming, yeah.” Luckily, the jam closes out on one of these moments –a perfect high note to cut through the overkill.
Before continuing, I’d like to admit that Snowdonia isn’t a blockbuster. The album doesn’t grant us any superb hits that will go down in history nor does it dish out any fresh tricks to wow the thrill seekers. The album does however bring that sun-kissed, indie, surf punk genre back to basics and with more substance than has been put on display as of late. Snowdonia isn’t overwhelmingly amazing –but it sure as all hell did leave me tickled pink. Honest lyrics and atmospheric guitar lines make for some of the most enticing music as of late. Toss in some good timing and Snowdonia is perfect for brightening up these final days of winter.
Just past the half way point we find ourselves at the title track. It begins thematic and cinematic –crafting a variety of soundscapes through changing moods. The drifting, repetitious vocals give a sort of shoegaze vibe alongside building guitar lines and constantly increasing layers of texture. As the vocals pour out, “Days and seasons, years and eons,” there’s a sort of brief, ghostly depiction of the 70’s. It waivers and crashes back into the rest of the song. Then, a switchup. Things get brighter, a bit more typical and predictable. Surfer Blood evokes their true nature and whips up something a little warmer. The guitar works with chromatic diligence –dancing across various notes. The vocals go high and guide each instrument through every little side of this very complex tune. “Snowdonia” is a doozy of a listen at nearly eight minutes, but with a constant shift and rather catchy and accessible melodies, it manages to stay fresh throughout. A few tracks later, and our finale.
Surfer Blood concludes their latest addition with “Carrier Pigeon.” The song has this sort of drag to it, as if it was originally intended to be played just a bit faster, as if there’s just something slowing it down. The guitars are less nimble, the vocals are dreamy, it’s an odd experience in contrast to the album and yet the wind down to this point seems to make sense. While frankly it’s probably the least interesting track that Snowdonia has to offer, it’s an excellent closer that puts an appropriate cap on the listen.
If anybody has ever ‘bounced back’ it’s Surfer Blood. The band has dealt with numerous troubles as of late, including the loss of a fellow bandmate, and yet somehow, they managed to produce not just a listenable album, not just a good album, but a pretty damn good album. Snowdonia is the sun-kissed indie we all need to brighten things up right about now but with a touch of suffering, growth, and sincerity interwoven throughout. While the album isn’t a must listen, Surfer Blood’s indie pop vocals and beach-minded punk licks are hard to ignore. If you don’t feel motivated to dive into something more chipper, then so be it –but for what it’s worth… Snowdonia is a fantastic Spring time listen, perfect for fresh starts, good moods, and warm weather.