Surfer Blood – ‘Tarot Classics’

The seasonal shift into the cheery winter holidays is fast approaching, but true-blooded Californians know we live in a land where booze and the beach go hand in hand, the paradox of on-the-go and raging partier exists in perfect harmony, and the weather has two modes: sunny, and slightly less sunny with a little morning fog.

It’s all hard to ignore while listening to Surfer Blood’s new EP, “Tarot Classics.” Summery pop rock numbers like the opening track “I’m Not Ready” bear heavy resemblance to songs from The Strokes, Albert Hammond Jr., or even Girls with a tinny guitar, echoing snare drum, and lead singer John Paul Pitts’ melodic crooning.

At first glance, it would seem that “I’m Not Ready” sets a boundlessly happy precedent for the rest of the album, but just like the lyric, “Take a look under the microscope, man,” Surfer Blood’s jubilee has an underlying depth of sternness and slight disappointment.

Like a turning dial, “Miranda” takes the ostensibly happy-go-lucky vibe down a notch with messier, more pronounced guitars and Pitts belting out, “How can you say to me it’s not meant to be?” and the single-word chorus.

A forlorn pondering of love lost despite the sunshine-y vibe is consistent throughout the four song EP. “Voyager Reprise” sounds as though Surfer Blood isn’t just a band, but a group of discontented youth realizing that there must be something more in their lives than what meets the eye. The bass groove and jangling guitars lead to the lyric, “I can’t go out ‘cause I’m sick with myself.”

If anything, “Voyager Reprise” shows that the songs on “Tarot Classics” are carefully crafted with their small additions and subtle sounds. Just as if you feel like you’ve got a gist of Surfer Blood’s style, harmonicas, a synthesizer, vocal humming and the subtle tinkling of chimes ring in to switch things up and make the bridge from chorus to verse a spine-tingling ordeal.

It is not hard to make the leap that Surfer Blood is in the same vein as bands like The Smiths, whose sobering ruminations lurk beneath a veneer of ostensibly cheery instrumental work. The last song on the EP, “Drinking Problem,” acts like an Alcoholics Anonymous public service announcement; Pitts constantly repeats, “At least I know who my friends are.” The beat is a whole different story, though. There are screeches from birds of prey, jittering animal noises, and an intro that sounds like it was pulled from a 90’s gangster funk track.

My only complaint with Tarot Classics is that it’s too short. While the deluxe version is available with more electronic remixes from artists like Peggy Wang of The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart and School of Seven Bells, having “Drinking Problem” as an end to the EP feels too abrupt. It’s still a solid continuation of Surfer Blood’s explosion on to the indie rock scene with their debut, 2010’s “Astro Coast,” and the underlying somberness of “Tarot Classics” adds much needed depth to such sweet melodies.

Rating: 4 out of 5