January 31, 2010: Surfer Blood, Astro Coast

Astro Coast is the work of a very young band with a good ear for hooks but not a lot of personality. It’s got a lot of up-to-the-minute trendiness working for it— beach/ocean imagery, reverb slathered on everything to make it sound more lo-fi, even a brief foray into quasi-African rhythms— although none of those things really define Surfer Blood‘s sound. They’re mostly just a sturdy, old-fashioned guitar-centric pop band. A lot of people seem to want to compare them to Weezer, possibly out of a desire for a current-day Weezer that isn’t horrible, although the surfy moments could just as well been lifted from Pixies’ Bossanova. The singer has a pretty good voice, which combined with the album’s heavy reverb (and the occasional faux-British accent) makes him sound like the frontman of an 80s new wave band like Tears For Fears or Big Country or Comsat Angels. By which I mean they’d probably fit in well on the Real Genius soundtrack.

But for all of these generally positive associations, Astro Coast comes off as merely workmanlike. The performances feel sluggish, and while the songs are well-written, they’re also a bit generic. The only way I can understand Pitchfork’s choice to bestow their Best New Music status on them would be from the dual perspectives of nostalgia and potential: here’s a band that sounds like a throwback to 90’s indie-rock but with some contemporary production touches, and they may be a little green but they have the skills to be good at some point in the future. And that may be true. But that doesn’t change my feelings that Astro Coast is just a pumped-up demo from a band that hasn’t yet decided what it wants to be when it grows up.