It’s only been five years, but Surfer Blood’s latest album, 1000 Palms, is worlds away from their debut. Gone are the unrestrained fuzz breakdowns, the reverb-heavy vocals and the frenetic guitar riffs. Now, Surfer Blood offers us a more refined sound. Vaguely reminiscent of Guster and Weezer at their tamer moments (Weezer, that is; Guster didn’t have many untame moments), 1000 Palms is subdued and catchy, maybe a little slow, but in the end a pretty good record.
You wouldn’t note the difference between this album and their earlier efforts if you only listened to the first two tracks. “Grand Inquisitor” starts with soft, crescendoing synths that turn into a quickly rolling drum beat, which, along with the noisy guitars swirling in the background does not let up until the end of the track. “Island” starts off a bit quietly, but really opens up in the middle with flanged background notes and some of those fuzzed out guitars Surfer Blood came to be known for.
However, once 1000 Palms reaches its third track everything has settled down a bit. From lead single “I Can’t Explain” all the way to the closing moments, the album maintains a base level of volume and excitement. Even the “yelling” refrain of “Right on!” on “Covered Wagons” is barely a raise in vocalist John Paul Pitts’ voice, and seems a bit quiet and breezy. The only track that causes you to perk up your ears is “Into Catacombs,” the group’s only foray in 3/4. The song doesn’t elevate the noise level but it generates some interesting moments with rhythmic and tonal shifts, a sign of maturity that the group is relying less on dynamics and more on song writing to create the energy. It’s all fine, everything sounds alright, but it could use a few more genuinely exciting moments.
The album’s best success is perhaps its nostalgic resonance. Pitts has always had a late 90’s kind of voice even if he wasn’t making late 90’s music. Now, he’s making that music and his voice fits right in. 1000 Palms is a breezy, lazy summer album in its own right, but it borrows much of its value from its ability to conjure up those lazy summer albums of years past.