A Band Under Reconstruction
Life since 1000 Palms has been excruciating for Surfer Blood. Following the 2015 release, bassist Kevin Williams departed from the band, frontman John Pitts’s mother was diagnosed with cancer and, most tragically, guitarist Thomas Fekete passed away from the same disease. Their latest effort, Snowdonia, finds what’s left of the original lineup (Pitts and drummer Tyler Schwarz) picking up the pieces and reassembling. Pitts, the only remaining songwriter, penned the album himself, creating a record that is reflective, longing and hopeful.
For all that has transpired, Snowdonia is remarkably casual on the surface. Jaunty “Matter of Time” kicks off the album with the type of pop rock Surfer Blood has pumped out since their inception – sprightly, with slightly distorted guitars and carefree lyrics about living in the moment of a relationship. Pitts seems to be in no rush to find marital bliss: “How’s the stroke of someone’s pen gonna change us? / you have my love for free / you have everything that I have to offer / we’ll know when we are ready.” The song and its compelling punchiness harken back to the sunny, echoing surf-rock that characterized the band during their earlier years.
Pitts puts his newest bandmates on display early on, most notably bassist/vocalist Lindsey Mills in the harmonies of “Frozen” and guitarist Mike McCleary in the guitars of “Dino Jay.” Like “Matter of Time,” these songs on the first half of the album sound familiar, but Snowdonia is not a retreat to the Surfer Blood comfort zone. In fact, the back half has Surfer Blood trailblazing into some of their most unpredictable work.
The band takes their biggest creative risk with “Six Flags in F or G,” an eight-minute track that builds up to something that is a complete departure from anything we’ve come to expect from Surfer Blood. The song seamlessly shifts in tone halfway through, taking us from what sounds like an ominous, old Western score to an alt-rock elegy, clearly for Fekete. Pitts sings, “one of these days, we’ll never be apart again, ” and one can hear the grief and longing in his voice – he dearly misses his friend.
Surfer Blood is understandably in a state of rebuilding regarding band dynamic and creative direction. At times, it’s apparent that they don’t know which direction to head. “Instant Doppelgangers” takes several detours but never leads us anywhere particularly new or interesting. The tone of “Taking Care of Eddy,” at moments, comes across as strange – the instrumental mood at times does not always match that of the lyrics. While they occasionally seem lost in Snowdonia, Surfer Blood’s genuine moments, most prominently on “Six Flags,” help them find their way back home.