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Best of What's Next: Surfer Blood

February 12, 2010  |  6:00am
Best of What's Next: Surfer Blood

Hometown: West Palm Beach, Fla.
Album: Astro Coast
For Fans Of: Weezer, Pavement, The Shins
Band Members: Brian Black (bass), Thomas Fekete (guitar), Marcos Marchesani (percussion), John Paul Pitts (vocals, guitar), Tyler Schwarz (drums)

Things have happened quickly for Surfer Blood. After the band’s lead single “Swim” spread across music blogs last fall, the band cemented the buzz with a dozen shows during October’s CMJ Music Marathon; in January, the band released its debut album, Astro Coast, on Kanine Records. As these things tend to go, most of the subsequent coverage focused has focused on the most novel aspect of the band’s biography: their roots in West Palm Beach, Fla., a city known more for its warm white sands than rock ‘n’ roll.

“Everyone who reviewed us had to make some sort of remark about fun in the sun,” says frontman John Paul Pitts. “Critics started labeling us as ‘surf rock.’ At first I was peeved about the term, but then I thought about it. We do have jangly guitars and a certain pep to the beat. I just always thought of ourselves more like a Pavement and Dinosaur Jr. guitar-fetish band. Those are my favorite bands, but I suppose calling us surf rock is just a little easier.”

Despite the annoyance of pigeonholing, it’s hard to imagine the warm, easy guitar riffs and oceanic imagery of the album having been born out of, say, Minnesota. Astro Coast was recorded just as the bandmates neared the end of college, and it hinges on an underlying angst culled from the guitar-heavy indie-rock of the late 1990s—half nostalgic, half anxious. “Parts of these songs definitely deal with that stage of your life where you’re thrown into the world, but you’re not sure how to do anything yet,” Pitts says. “It’s the time of your life where people you grew up with are moving all over the world, and you’re feeling that separation.”

The sense of betrayal that comes with seeing childhood friends move away—sometimes just for the sake of moving—drives the album’s bitter opening numbers, including “Swim,” on which Pitts taunts a California-bound friend with vicious references to the state’s vanity. On “Floating Vibes,” though, he’s more earnest. “I need you in the here and now,” he sings, “instead of dreaming up a way to spread your name across the world somehow.”

Astro Coast is distinguished by a keen sense of place, but ultimately the Florida setting is incidental to the album’s themes. Pitts doesn’t romanticize West Palm Beach because it’s sunny, or even because he particularly likes it there; he clings to it because it’s home, a source of familiarity at a time in life when little else is stable. “Maybe in a way we couldn’t help but draw on our surroundings as a muse,” Pitts concedes. “I don’t go to the beach that often, and I haven’t surfed since I was 18 years old. But in Florida, you take a lot of stuff for granted. People take pictures of you and it’s only when you look at them later that you realize you’re surrounded by blue skies and palm trees.”

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