Surfer Blood’s fourth album, Snowdonia, features an airy pop aesthetic that while playful and innocuous, has a dark, melancholic undercurrent rife with tragedy. You might say that the band’s frontman, John Paul Pitts, mirrors his music’s anatomy quite well. Pitts was charged with domestic violence in 2012 against his then girlfriend, revealing an unhinged savagery that betrays his seemingly laid-back demeanor and boyish appearance. Another harrowing influence on Snowdonia’s grim narrative was the death of guitarist Thomas Fekete this past year to cancer, of whom the album is dedicated.
Despite the baggage and bad fortune, Surfer Blood still maintains an uncanny to rattle off mature indie pop hooks like on their title track “Snowdonia” and infectious Vampire Weekend-ish “Frozen”. The band shows an edge on surf-rock influenced “Six Flags in F or G” and punk-leaning “Matter of Time”. This the first Surfer Blood album featuring new additions Lindsey Mills on bass and Michael McLeary on guitar, who both have tangible contributions to the record in vocal layering and call-and-response.
While Snowdonia delivers in producing a few gems to fortify the band’s touring set-list, the album fails to raise eyebrows or foster a real connection. It’s as if Pitts wanted to put forth a solid record that could bear a couple singles, but didn’t want to rock the boat or risk too much in pushing the creative envelope, preferring to be mired in mediocrity instead. With all of the emotion and strife that has afflicted the band, one can’t help but feel that their latest record is close to artificial than it is to candid.