Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Making Waves - The Rebirth of Surf Rock

Undoubtedly, the sound of 2010 has been the strange - if not welcoming - ressurection of the surf rock genre. The sound of the '60s quickly began creating momentum towards the back end of 2009, with acts such as The Drums, Beach House, Surfer Blood and Best Coast being tipped as the stars of 2010. The sounds of summer, bittersweet romance and rejoice have taken listeners back to the genre's peak, when artists such as The Beach Boys, The Surfaris and The Kingsmen were some of the world's most popular bands.

One of the biggest mainstream hits this year, has been Brooklyn's The Drums. The New York-based hipsters only formed in Florida in late 2008, when childhood friends Jonathan Pierce (vocals) and Jacob Graham (guitar) had grown tired of synathetics of previous bands, Elkland and Horse Shoes, instead opting to pick up guitars. (A feat which is clearly audible through their debut self-titled LP being ladened with one-note riffs.) They later recruited former Elkland member Adam Kessler on second guitar and NYC-born Connor Hanwick on drums. They quickly developed a growing fanbase in New York's indie scene and their eagerly anticipated EP, Summertime!, was released in October 2009. This lead to the band being listed amongst 2010's 'Ones To Watch', by several major media companies, such as the BBC's Sound of 2010, MTV's 10 for 10 and Number One on NME's tips for the year. Their EP released on the Moshi Moshi label, brought the band to the mainstream audience through the debut single, Let's Go Surfing. At first glimpse, you would expect this to be a song about surfing, however the song was written on the day of Barack Obama's inauguration. Thus this inspires the whole record's feel-good factor, yet it is not solely a one-dimensional road, with the doo-woop ridden sadness of Down By The Water included, to give the band an overall differing sound. Their sound has been described as a mixture of surf pop and eighties post-punk, with the band listing their influences as The Smiths, Joy Division and Orange Juice. Frontman Pierce believes they are not a surf pop band, with "the beach thing only being attatched to us as our first song was called Let's Go Surfing." However with beach-like soundng riffs and a list of summer joyful lyrics, you would have to list them among the surf rock genre.

Another tipped as one of 2010's biggest stars, but without the mainstream sucess of The Drums, are West Palm Beach's Surfer Blood. The Floridians debut single Swim was released in 2009, to much critical acclaim and was named as Pitchfork's 37th best song of the year. The added reverb of the songs opening, gives off a echoing Brian Wilson harmonius effect, attatched to the Isaac Brock-esque, of Modest Mouse fame, yelling of singer John Paul Pitts. With a sound compared to Weezer and Pavement by Pitchfork, they are not your typical beach-pop band. Despite residing in the surf-haven of Florida, not one member surfs and their name was created by drummer TJ Schwarz, as they felt it gave them a look they were going for, of "impressionable youth and invulnerable sensitivity." Their debut LP Astro Coast was recorded in Pitts' college dorm room at the University of Florida. It was released to hugely positive reactions, particularly Pitchfork, who called it a "great guitar album." Pitts says their sound is based on their influences of Dinosaur Jr, Sonic Youth and "really classic 90s alternative stuff."

Like their contemporaries, Baltimore-based Beach House also decide to use a name hinting at the genre of their music. The duo consisting of French-born Victoria Legrand (vocals/organ) and Alex Scally (guitar/keyboards) formed in 2004, with their debut self-titled album released in 2006, with Pitchfork naming it their 16th best album of the year. Their second LP Devotion was released on February 26 2008, which received them greater acclaim and once again being named among Pitchfork's best of album list, this time coming in at 46. However it wasn't until the release of third album Teen Dream in January 2010, that propelled the band into commercial success. The single Norway was listed as one of iTunes's free singles of the week starting from January 12. The BBC called it a "bold evolution in sound" and "the new decade's first essential album." Their sound has been described as 'dream pop', a tag used on influencial-80s Scottish band Cocteau Twins, in recognition of Legrand's haunting lyrics and due to their atmospheric guitar sound.
Finally, Best Coast are the latest surf-rock revilatists to start to crack the mainstream. The Los Angeles trio consists of former child actress Bethany Consentino (vocals), multi-instrumentalist Bobb Bruno and newly appointed drummer Ali Koehler. Consentino and Bruno had met years before forming the band, as Bruno was her babysitter as a child. Their single Boyfriend was named as a "best new track" by Pitchfork in June 2010. While their debut album Crazy For You was released a month later on Witchita. The album received 8/10 from NME, who singled it out for it's "great songs and immense charm." Their legion of followers even includes Sonic Youth's Thurston Moore and Hollywood actor Bill Murray, who was spotted watching them at the South by South West festival in Austin, Texas in March. Consentino isn't afraid of their 'surf pop' tag, explaining that she is a keen listener of the genre. "I listen to a lot of '60s beach music. It sounds happy and innocent, but it was made during a time that wasn't happy or innocent at all."

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