What happens when buzz turns sour? That’s certainly the question at hand on Surfer Blood’s latest effort, Pythons. In 2009, the Florida alt rockers made quite the splash with “Swim,” the debut single that helped them skyrocket from bedroom project to Pitchfork-approved breakout band. Then, in March 2012, frontman John Paul Pitts was arrested on charges of domestic battery after an altercation with his girlfriend. Although we’re far from gossipy when it comes to personal matters– and it’s worth noting that all charges were later dropped– it’s safe to say that the unfortunate incident had its influence on the making of Pythons. On their sophomore LP, Surfer Blood’s sound remains sunny as ever, but their outlook turns considerably more bleak.
Like Wavves’ Nathan Williams on Afraid of Heights, Surfer Blood have decided to pay homage to great pop-punk of the past on their latest release. Pythons is filled with melodic hooks and inspired moments of jangle-pop, but also displays a general, and new, feeling of anxiety. On opener “Demon Dance” Pitts bares his soul, singing, “Like a Pentecostal choir on Sunday/I can suck the venom right from your bones,” before apologizing via shrieks and yells. The song is undeniably pleasant, but deceivingly so; dark undertones hide exceptionally well within a catchy chorus.
Pythons was produced in California by Gil Norton, who crafted and contoured the record’s twelve tracks much like he’s done in the past for bands like Pixies. While Pythons sounds considerably smoother than anything Surfer Blood have done before, it’s also a bit scattered. Highlights include the grunge-y (and quite telling) “I Was Wrong” and the sun-soaked “Weird Shapes,” but later tracks like “Blair Witch” are definitely worthy of skipping.
Through its best and bitterest moments, Pythons still retains its charms, ultimately building towards something that– if it can make up its own worry-riddled mind– could be pretty sweet.
3 / 5 bars