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With all of the excitement and hope surrounding 2010s breakout debut album Astro Coast, no one could have predicted the uphill struggle that would come for Florida’s Surfer Blood. The difficulties of drinking problems, a dropped abuse charge and a distaste for record label interference were reflected in the subsequent albums lack of vibrancy and enthusiasm. Then, the tragic loss of guitarist Thomas Fekete to cancer in May 2016 and the diagnosis of lead singer John Paul Pitt’s mother’s just added to the tortuous climb the new albums title suggests. On this, their fourth album, through adversity and growth, change has been forced and inevitable. A change of tone, pace and style was expected, especially with new members contributing to the rebuild of the broken band.
The first song released, ‘Six Flags in F or G’, sounds driven and angry, the post-punk and krautrock influences Pitt had been listening to during the albums writing showing clearly. The moody bass and wiggly guitar lines contrast and complement the sombre tone of the latter half of the track. The call and response of “One of these days, gonna get to the heart. One of these days, when the bridge falls apart. One of these days, right back at the start. One of these days, we’ll never be apart again.” is a heart-breaking perspective, as if they’d be inconsolable any other way.
After the misleadingly grumbly opening for ‘Dino Jay’, there’s a familiarly optimistic, surfy pop-punk tone, with harmonies and a slick riff too. It’s the first time Pitt has mixed any of their records since the debut and it sounds much more dynamic with it under his control. It sounds professional, but with a DIY vibe that suits them best. The album also introduces new bassist Lindsey Mills and you can hear the influence from her solo work, it somehow seems softer and dreamier, and with the addition of her backing vocals it sounds more layered and complete. The instrumentation too sounds more cohesive than ever before, if a bit samey.
The albums peak (sorry) come in the near eight minute title track ‘Snowdonia’, it’s pretty instrumental opening gives the listener time to take a step back and reflect on the album and really hear how they feel. Lyrics about the ups and downs of life, like “horses on a carousel”, seem oddly optimistic, they’ve been through a lot, but they’re “trying to find their way in the dark”, as shown on the albums emotional closer ‘Carrier Pigeons’, a song about Pitt’s mother’s cancer diagnosis. There may not be the same excitement as there was in and around their debut but there’s somehow a new feeling of hope, for a better future, and for fans, that’s worth being excited about.