With the unexpected smash success that was last year’s Astro Coast, Floridian indie band Surfer Blood – probably to the sinking apprehension of every single indie rock cainophobe – seemingly has no where to go but larger. After national notoriety and critical acclaim brought the young act to a slew of spacious festival stages and the inevitable larger record label, the next logical step would be a more expansive and grandiose sound on record.
But even after quietly signing to Warner Bros. Records and just as quietly dismissing percussionist Marcos Marchesani – both pretty extraordinary changes despite the lack of surrounding fanfare – the Surfer Blood of 2010 is still mostly intact (at least for now) with the release of the Tarot Classics EP. Opting to put off their major label debut in favor of another go with the familiar and independent Kanine Records, the band spends less time here exploring new musical landscapes than they do refining their own straightforward patchwork instrumentation with more fully realized song structuring and a cleaner production sheen, which – given that Astro Coast was without a doubt one of last year’s top ten albums – is something I doubt anyone will be upset about.
Though throughout the EP you can hear the band attempt to slightly distance themselves from the ever-flooding pool of surf-oriented acts whose beachy names operate as banal reminders of their genre, the guiding guitar riff of “I’m Not Ready” is inescapably all sun, sand and waves as a rumination on the bridge from “Fast Jabroni”, moving along with a midtempo metronome churn that allows lead guitarist Thomas Fekete and bassist Kevin Williams to subtly riff off of each other while singer John Paul Pitts now emphatically boasts a more confident and relatively less reverbed croon. And while the same charming penchant for cautious experimentation from songs like “Anchorage” and “Take It Easy” is still unmistakably present, it sounds tempered not by Classics’ slightly higher production values but by a collective determination to set these songs apart, even if that means tightening screws and cutting fat in places you wouldn’t expect.
Nevertheless, with the synth and drum machine-laden “Drinking Problem” as well as a couple of techno remixes bookending the record, the jury is still out on whether Surfer Blood is prepping some sort of stylistic about-face on their next longform release. It being very possibly the case that these four songs are simply a burn-off of their remaining Kanine-era material, Tarot Classics may be less an indication of where the band is going than where they’ve already been. For now however, Surfer Blood seems content to treat listeners to eighteen months’ worth of unforced maturity and natural restraint packed into three or so of 2011’s best tracks.