Surfer Blood return with their fourth album, ‘Snowdonia’, the first since guitarist and founding member Thomas Fekete passed away in 2016. The album, which was written and mixed by front-man John Paul Pitts, probes themes and genres not yet explored by the band. The result is a sometimes disjointed, but ultimately captivating exploration of the band’s attempts to come to terms with grief, and the change it inevitably brings along with it.
The heavy, reverberating surf-rock we’ve grown to know and love from Surfer Blood still has a very important place on this album. Opening track ‘Matter of Time’ harks back to the band’s earlier work, with reverb laden guitars endowing the opening with a powerful punchiness. ‘You don’t have to bring me candy or flowers’ sings Pitts, the low-pitch of his voice cutting through the bubbly instrumentals to set the energy of the first half of the album; upbeat, but controlled.
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‘Six Flags in F or G’ is, in the words of Pitts himself, unlike anything the band have done before. And he’s right. The song is far removed from the kind of sound we’ve come to expect from Surfer Blood. But this is no bad thing. The track transitions from genre to genre with a smooth effortlessness which jars somewhat (effectively) with the lyrics. Opening to a riff that sounds like a love child between the Arctic Monkeys and a spaghetti western chase scene, Pitt’s voice marries perfectly with the guitar. There’s an urgency in the first half of song, which, before you know it, sides into a mellow sound, infused with the psychedelic sound of a wah-wah pedal dripping through. It’s unexpected, yet works completely and utterly. With lyrics such as ‘one of these days, we’ll never be apart again’, it’s clear that ‘Six Flags in F or G’ documents Pitts’ attempts to understand, and come to terms with Fekete’s death. Indeed, even the way Pitts sings ‘F or G’ sounds like he’s saying ‘burning six flags in effigy’. And it seems like this track in particular is just that – a monument to his fallen friend. It’s a fittingly unique and heartfelt tribute; a move in a different direction that captures a great deal.
The title track, ‘Snowdonia’, is another highlight on the album. With an ambient opening, bolstered by the rattle of a tambourine, it’s an 8-minute exploration of uncharted territory. It jumps from one genre to another, incorporating some of that old favourite surf-rock, before seeming to drifting into the ambiguous haze of post-rock, all the while changing pace frequently along the way. Seeming to draw inspiration from similarly creative bands such as The Middle East, there is melancholy reflected in the lyrics; ‘you don’t need me anymore’, and the fluctuations of ‘Snowdonia’ point to a journey through genres, as if Pitt’s and the band are searching for something. This is not surprising, as a new line up inevitably means a new sound. Nor is it bad thing; as the band realign themselves musically, they delve into new sounds, trying to find the perfect fit. Whilst they’re not quite there yet, they’re very close.
Listening to ‘Snowdonia’ is certainly never boring. Each song has a presence and weightiness to it which resounds. ‘Instant Doppelgänger’ sounds like a 70s homage, with jarring guitar cutting through Pitt’s voice. The opening of ‘Dino Jay’ is laden with feedback, before transforming into a preppy, upbeat track, more in keeping with the bands earlier work. Whilst on paper the apparent disparity between tracks seems bizarre, when they are laid out end to end, they all work together well. The muddling of genres tells a story. By mixing the album himself, Pitt’s has instilled in it an emotional character which exceeds genre, and maps Surfer Blood’s attempts to understand and overcome the loss of their friend and band-mate.