Album Reviews - Reviews

Surfer Blood – Pythons


It’s fair to say that amongst most people of a certain age you’d struggle to find anyone who doesn’t, or didn’t at one time love Teenage Fanclub, Pavement or Weezer. That combination of Ric Ocasek guitar, sweeter than sweet melodies and chunky fuzzy distortion is the perfect mixture for the music fan who loves the power and energy of punk but needs that wonderful hook to drag them in. When done right, you end up with Bandwagonesque, Slanted and Enchanted or The Blue Album, albums so good that cries of heresy instantly follow any sort of critical dissent.  But when such a tried and tested  formula fails, all that remains is the numbing feeling of mediocrity and boredom. So where does Surfer Blood‘s latest release Pythons land?

If the mood of this album is anything to go by, then it seems to be perpetually sunny in the Surfer’s camp. Every single song, even those twinged with melancholy, seem to radiate this strangely joyous sound.  The single ‘Weird Shapes’ is so drenched in this radiating nostalgia, it takes you straight to Summer days and simple times that might just be figments of your imagination. Even at an incredibly lean 34 minutes the sweetness begins to become too much. It’s fun, but if you allow yourself too much it will rot your teeth. In smaller chunks however, there are wonderful little treats to brighten up a sunny day just a little more. The success of this mood is due in no small part to producer Gil Norton’s (Doolittle, The Color and the Shape) elegantly alternative touch. The man knows when to let the pop melodies carry the song, when to let the boys scream their lungs out and, in the case of album standout ‘Slow Six’, when to turn shit up to 11. Norton’s influence can be overbearing at points, but for the most part he reigns himself in and successfully pushes the band in the general direction of the Pixies, rather than trying to turn them into the Pixies.

Ironically for such a cheerful and bright sound, lyrically the album is dark and deeply violent. It’s a bit like Blue Velvet would be if Dennis Hopper had primarily listened to Cheap Trick and Big Star. On a surface level, the lyrics are the typical generation X fodder, dealing with issues of angst and victimization. But the nature of these lyrics does take on a much more unnerving mood once the elephant in the room is addressed. In March 2012, lead singer John Paul Pitts was arrested for domestic battery. The night in question involved threats of self-mutilation, non-fatal injuries and intense psychological abuse. With this in mind, the words become much more disconcerting. Unlike the effect Richey Edward’s psychosis had on the Manic Street Preachers output (which enhanced the overbearing nature of their work),  this spoils the party. Once we see the strings, its stops being fun.

But if we remove the politics and personal failings and go back to the first question, how does Pythons hold up? It holds up well. It’s nowhere near as good as the albums it emulates and is severely lacking in originality. Despite these failings, it’s sweet sugary fun with some hints of darkness; Cookies and cream mixed with a shot of Johnny Walker Red. Will Murphy 

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