ALBUM REVIEW: Surf City | We Knew It Was Not Going To Be Like This

Rating7square-600-1Three years after their debut album, Surf City return with another batch of songs that maintain the dense, opulent melodies and archetypal kiwi indie sonics but now built around a more confident compositional core.

From the outset the band fall straight back into the deep end of their hooky, slacker vocal delivery with oohs and doo doos aplenty. Their songs are deceptively simple, based around a central catchy melody while the rest of the band chugs along slack-jawed and with a casual swing. The ever present aura of krautrock has always hovered around Surf City and they bring it to the fore on Song From a Short Lived TV Series. The rhythm section pulses along before the repetitive tension is released and chiming guitar riffs bring a cascade of light and colour to the song. It’s the strongest track on the album and though others like NYC follow its template they’re imitations of the paler shade.

No Place To Go dials back the wash of gentle psych and takes the more direct route with its sugary pop feel reminiscent of 90s countrymen Garageland. Similarly stripped back (sonically and thematically) is I Want You, a 60s boy/girl pop song with no pretensions to be anything else. It shows how effectively Surf City can do honest, straightforward pop as well as immersive psychedelic excursions like the Television-esque album closer What Gets Me By.

Surf City have widened their oeuvre on We Knew It Was Not Going To Be Like This and show their willingness to explore new areas of their songwriting capabilities. For the most part they nail it save for some distracting, unresolved noodling at a couple of points. Firmly part of the current wave of NZ acts like Unknown Mortal Orchestra, Opossom and Popstrangers, Surf City continue to breathe new life into combinations of older musical forms.

Chris Familton

this review was first published on FasterLouder


LIVE REVIEW: Sonny & The Sunsets, Surf City, Community Radio, Adults @ Goodgod (21/11/13)

DS Featured Imagesonny

Four shades of indie guitar pop music were on display at Goodgod with Adults being at the more obtuse end of the spectrum. The trio knocked out ramshackle, skeletal post punk songs built around restless melodies and rhythmic edge. Their songs gave the impression of being thrown together casually yet beneath the Pavement-esque delivery there lurked some interesting and restless musicality. Once the ears and brain adjusted they were occasionally frustrating and often very good.

Community Radio include members of Youth Group, Songs and The Vines with their sound sitting firmly in the vicinity of the the former two. Their dreamy, softly propulsive songs blended in well with Goodgod’s dimly lit, basement grotto feel and hypnotic spinning mirrorball. The interplay between guitarist Cameron Emerson-Elliott and bassist Patrick Matthews stood out as a highlight with intermeshed rhythms and tangled notes working out some wonderful melodies.

New Zealanders Surf City re-energised the audience with a set that had its fair share of frustrations but showed enough to justify the critical acclaim for their two albums. A bass cabinet upped and died in the first song leaving the band to battle on with the low end coming only from the stage monitors. It seemed to throw them, disrupting their vibe on stage, unnecessarily so as it still sounded great out front. They showed how well they’ve mastered the skill of blending a strong rhythm section with layered, effect-rich guitars and hook-laden vocals. You could hear the ghosts of the last 30 years of New Zealand independent music, still with Surf City’s own stamp applied.

Sonny & The Sunsets played their set in near darkness yet their music was brightest and most unabashed pop music of the night. Sure there was an abundance of dark lyrical themes but the band framed them with such infectious indie, surf and rock n roll pop shapes that they won the audience over from the get go. Goofy songs about murder, love, romance, aliens and girls filled the room via Sonny Smith’s laconic drawl that often brought to mind a jerkier, new wave Lou Reed. The musicality of The Sunsets was a real highlight from Tahlia Harbour’s girl-group backing vocals to the way they allowed so much space in their sound when it was required. This was a set of songs that sounded otherworldly and familiar, simple yet quirky, all at the same time.

by Chris Familton

this review was first published in The Music

ds…twenty five – our favourite releases of 2010

That’s it then, 2010 done and dusted and although it wasn’t the best year ever for new music there were some damn fine records released. This year we’re seeing an even more eclectic mix of flavours coming through from witch house, minimal electronica, americana, experimental and the all encompassing indie tag. Have a look at what we loved through the year, click on the covers for linked reviews and please leave comments and let us know your faves…

2010 has also been another stellar year for reissues, remasters and deluxe versions and honourable mentions must go to:

  • David Bowie | Station To Station
  • The Rolling Stones | Exile On Main Street
  • Iggy Pop & James Williamson | KIll City
  • Dexys Midnight Runners | Searching For The Lost Soul Rebels
  • Frankie Goes To Hollywood | Welcome To The Pleasuredome
  • The Cure | Disintegration

25. Spoon | Transference

24. Liars | Sisterworld

23. Wavves | KIng Of The Beach

22. Surf City | Kudos

21. Simon Carter | The Black Book Of The Universe

20. Mount Kimbie | Crooks & Lovers

19. James Blake | Klavierwerke EP

18. Forest Swords | Dagger Paths EP

17. Jeremy Jay | Splash

16. Mark Moldre | The Waiting Room

15. Damien Jurado | Saint Bartlett

14. Deerhunter | Halcyon Digest

13. Gayngs | Relayted

12. Zola Jesus | Stridulum II

11. Wooden Shjips | Vol. 2

10. CocoRosie | Grey Oceans

9. Yeasayer | Odd Blood

8. The Black Keys | Brother

7. Tame Impala | Innerspeaker

6. Ariel Pink’s Haunted Graffiti | Before Today

5. Best Coast | Crazy For You

4. Beach House | Teen Dream

3. Die! Die! Die! | Form

2. The Soft Pack | The Soft Pack

1. Arcade Fire | The Suburbs

ALBUM REVIEW: Surf City | Kudos

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

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