Florida indie-rock band Surfer Blood’s newest release Snowdonia is an attempt by the group to deal with their turbulent life in the limelight, in which they have experienced many troubles and misfortunes.
Before delving into Snowdonia itself, the album needs some context. Surfer Blood has definitely had a difficult transition into the alternative music zeitgeist. Evidence? First, two years after Surfer Blood carved out their place in the indie-rock music scene with Astro Coast in 2010, lead singer and guitarist John Paul Pitts was arrested for domestic violence in his home-state Florida; he pleaded not guilty, eventually reaching a plea and pass deal. Trouble continued for the group with the tragic and untimely death of guitarist Thomas Fekete, who died of a rare stomach cancer at the young age of 27. Then, their bassist Kevin Williams dropped out of the band; he just up and left, moving to Texas. With new guitarist Michael McCleary and new bassist Lindsey Mills, frontman Pitts and drummer Tyler Schwarz have had to take control of the reigns and go back to page one.
Oddly, Surfer Blood doesn’t seem to obviously or directly deal with any of the above-mentioned issues. When I first listened to the album, the music sounded like the Surfer Blood I remembered and recognised, like breezy upbeat surf-rock, kind of a contemporary and alt twist on the 50s, kind of not. But, Surfer Blood almost uses the sound to drown out the emotion-packed depth of the lyrics. The opening song Matter of Time, for example, starts off with a carefree rumbly guitar and a catchy baseline. You can barely understand Pitt’s melancholy optimism; he sings, “We’ve always been alone / In a world so full of murky intentions / We’ll make ourselves a home”. The track, like many others on Snowdonia, isn’t what it appears to be on the surface. It simply takes more investigation to understand the group’s fourth album.
The real emotional low hides behind the deceiving rock-country bass line and hippy psychedelia of Six Flags In F Or G. You would never know listening to this song that it’s about the death of a loved one. Dedicated to band-member Fekete, Surfer Blood mourn the loss of their friend; they are, “Nourished by… disappointment” and, “Parasitic grief”. A little over five minutes in length, Six Flags In F Or G serves as a good figurehead for the album as a whole; the track contains the elements repeatedly present in Snowdonia. The song has a multipart construction, deep melodies, and shifts in beat and song.
With Snowdonia, Pitts gives us a taste of his grief, but that’s all he gives. He has not let his private life, and that of the rest of the band, interfere with the iconic sound he has created. Overall, Snowdonia might read like a ballad, but it sure does sound like indie-rock.