Ride that wave

Are Surfer Blood the only band from Florida?
By MICHAEL BRODEUR  |  February 23, 2010

FAKE-GENRE NAME HERE: Equal parts Beach Boys, Sebadoh, and Weezer, these are pop songs that are eager to please.

Like a killer wave or a lousy metaphor, success can really sneak up on you. Just ask Surfer Blood. Last April, the freshly educated four-piece couldn’t even get a show in their home town of West Palm Beach, Florida — and do you know how many bands there are in West Palm Beach? So far, I’ve thought of one, and I’m in the middle of an article about them.

“If you’re not selling out an amphitheater, no one’s really interested,” says Surfer Blood’s ordained mastermind and vocalist, JP Pitts, of his native turf. “Still, it’s not like we’re refugees down here. There’s a lot of cool people doing a lot of cool stuff. There just aren’t a lot of venues for it.” So much of Surfer Blood’s home scene was house shows, one-offs in a friend’s parents’ dance studio, a gig here or there at Respectables or Propaganda. Nothing too crazy — nothing that was registering in the local press, and certainly nothing that ever reached non-peninsula ears.

Then they did something unusual for a Florida band: they played north of Gainesville. Last August, they vanned as far north as Brooklyn (as a five-piece with the addition of Marcos Marchesani on keys and percussion) and played a string of shows — at the Charleston, the Silent Barn, a Todd P. show above a body shop — that wasted no time blowing the art-tenderized minds of Flatbush townsfolk. Blogwise, this was tantamount to firing themselves into the sweet spot of the Death Star. Before the tide could come in and go back out, the Web was boiling with Surfer Blood’s name. Pitchfork got wind of them, and away they went atop a swell of insta-success and the attendant bullshit that this Tuesday brings them to Great Scott.

“It was just crazy up there,” Pitts recalls. “There’s just such a hunger for new bands. But you break a string at CMJ or something and you’ve got 20 people tweeting about it.”

Read most of their press and you get the sense that nobody has ever heard of this “Florida” place before — and that a young band have apparently escaped from it without mullets is as close to human-interest reporting as music journalism gets. But what gets left out of the chatter — probably because music writers always feel they have to boldly go where no music writer has gone before — is that Surfer Blood are a high-grade throwback ’90s guitar band. Period.

Assholes might say something like “the Shins go to college,” but I prefer to think of the Surfer Blood sound as something of a genetic victory. You can hear defiant survivor strains of On the Mouth–era Superchunk throughout their flubless debut, Astro Coast (Kanine) — especially on “Floating Vibes.” But there are also smartly fabricated swatches of that whole white-boy lo-fi bedroom tropicália thing that’s going on (“Take It Easy”) for which I refuse to add to the fake-genre-name pigpile. Equal parts Beach Boys, Sebadoh, and Weezer, these are pop songs that are eager to please — mercifully spared the lately requisite Animal Collective acid wash. Pitts doesn’t seem to be running short on material or energy, so fickle zeitgeist permitting, they should be with us for a while — the band just need to be as buoyant as their songs. “I’m actually really anxious to get going. I just don’t want to pull all my hair out before I’m 24.”

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