written by Chris Familton
From the first opening melodic buzz of Kudos it is clear that Surf City are continuing the legacy of skewed kiwi guitar pop that has been crawling out of the practice rooms of New Zealand for the last thirty years. The key facilitator of the wealth of those musical riches has been Flying Nun Records but they were on a relative hiatus of sorts for the last decade. One label that has filled that void is Auckland’s Arch Hill Recordings who have released fantastic albums from bands like The Clean, Bachelorette, Street Chant and now Surf City.
The obvious influence at play on the new record is The Clean, a band who have walked their own path through indie music for the last couple of decades. Surf City take the hazy repetitive churn of The Clean but bring the krautrock influences up front in bold uppercase. Crazy Rulers Of The World and the title track riff repeatedly over the motorik drumming of Logan Collins but they inject enough pop nous to keep things fresh and alive – robotic with a slacker heart.
Teacher dials up the epic with an intimate practice room drum sound underpinning layers of guitars that buzz, echo, wash and smear across the song. It feels like it could go on forever and its brilliance lies in the fact that it never challenges the listener’s attention span.
A counterbalance to the bright rush of guitar pop is a couple of tracks where the band embraces more abstract forms similar to the work of Animal Collective. They dislocate the rhythms and Davin Stoddard’s voice chants and repeats lines with a mantric quality. It doesn’t completely work though and songs like Yakuza Park and Zombies tend to sound like lulls rather than highlights in the context of the whole album.
Surf City seem to have a long term lease on effortlessly hummable phrases and melodies. Stoddard has a wistful tone to his voice and super-coats a lazy demeanor across everything he sings. The lyrics are often buried by the style of his delivery or the mix but that obliqueness adds to the feel of the music in a positive way.
The title of Retro is a giveaway for a song that is the closest thing to replicating the band’s name with its 60s surf pop vibe. It is in similar territory to US cousins Best Coast and Girls and delights in its simplicity. That simplicity also emerges on CIA, a garage pop nugget that restores faith that a couple of chords, some frantic drumming and yelping vocals never fail to inspire when they are done with conviction.
Psychedelia and space rock are other well sharpened arrows in the band’s quiver with Autumn featuring some hypnotic looping and backwards sounds over the similarly mesmeric rhythm. In Times Of Approach is also high on effects and germanic chug that could easily be a lost Pink Floyd or Hawkwind outtake.
Surf City aren’t a one trick pony in any sense. The weave some quality influences into their eclectic sound and aren’t afraid to give the music space to stretch out and breathe. If we are talking great antipodean indie music in 2010 then this is a certain inclusion in the trilogy that includes Die! Die! Die! and Street Chant and continues the rich heritage of literate guitar pop from New Zealand.
this review first appeared on FasterLouder