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Surf City


12" LP

Availability: In stock


Quick Overview

Surf City’s first full-length album, 2010’s Kudos, takes the noise pop sound of their self-titled debut EP from 2008 and refines it into something quite similar, but better. That EP had no shortage of catchy songs and inspiring moments that conjured up ghosts of both Flying Nun and noisier NZ bands like Bailter Space and the 3-D's; this album has more. Song after song rolls past in waves of reverb, distortion, and trance-inducing rhythms, each with sharp hooks built on repletion, Josh Kennedy and Davin Stoddard's distant vocal chants, subtly yelped choruses, and the thickly intertwined guitars. They tend to blend together into a midtempo haze (in a good way) that feels much longer than the album’s 45-minute running time. Again, that’s a good thing since it’s a pleasant, caressing haze of sound that’s only rarely punctured by a boost in tempo (though "ICA" bursts out of the speakers like a blast of freezing cold water near the album’s end). The record and the band hit the sweet spot between the narcotic drive of the Velvet Underground, the murk of a wooly Flying Nun band, and the guitar overdrive of Sonic Youth. It’s a not uncommon spot for a band to find themselves in, but Surf City manage to escape any threat of sounding common by imbuing their sound with an insistent energy and drive. Instead of drifting away into the ether or plodding like heavy-handed copyists, they play the songs like they have something to lose, like they are the first band to ever harness these forces of noise and melody. It’s a good strategy, and songs like the gently undulating "Yakuza Park" or "Teachers," which surfs like a pro on waves of feedback and falsetto backing vocals, will end up stuck on a loop in your head after a couple listens. The whole record works like that, sounding good on first listen and then working into your system like a distorted and tuneful bacterial infection. It may be nothing all that new, but whether it’s a nostalgia trip or a first-time discovery of just how well noise and melody can blend together, Kudos is vital listening for indie rock fans in 2011.


On their Facebook page, Surf City has listed “shoewave” as their genre. While they are clearly poking fun at the absurdity of genre names like “shoegaze” and “chillwave”, it actually sums up the band’s aesthetic pretty succinctly. Additionally, the quartet hails from Auckland, New Zealand—an honest-to-god surf city—but the band got it’s name (originally Kill Surf City) from an old Jesus and Mary Chain b-side. So, yeah, what Surf City has cooked up is a surprisingly exciting combo of Matador and Creation’s ‘90s rosters spiked with heat-seeking surf riffs. Beyond boasting a plethora of hooks, the band injects a healthy amount of stylistic curveballs and perform with the vigor of men who know they have something to prove. As you might expect, Surf City also taps into the “Dunedin sound” of their Flying Nun forebears the Clean, the Chills, et al. This seeps through most explicitly on the motorik chug of “In Times of Approach…” and the epic “Icy Lakes”. Proving that the Velvet Underground is a well still not dry, the eight-minute-long track plays out like a kiwi-rock revamp of “Sister Ray”: the band locks into a groove and lets the sparks fly as the song propels ever onwards. Fittingly, “Retro” also harkens back to the ‘60s, albeit the more innocent, Spector-esque side of it. On standout tracks “Yakuza Park” and “Zombies”, Surf City reveals a fondness for Animal Collective. Granted, a debt to AnCo (however small) is pretty much a given for young bands these days, but its not exactly expected from a band whose most obvious reference points are Pavement and the Jesus & Mary Chain. To its credit, Surf City employs Animal Collective’s vocal cadences and rhythmic motifs in a way that meshes seamlessly with its ramshackle Malkmus & Reid homages. “Autumn” is both the finest example of this amalgam and one of the band’s finest tracks to date. It’s also the most deserving of the term “shoewave”. The missteps on Kudos are few and mostly unrelated to the songwriting. While I appreciate “lo-fi” as much as any indie geek who came of age in the ‘90s, I do not respect it as an aesthetic choice when the option of higher fidelity is available. While I’m sure Surf City didn’t have much of a recording budget, any kid with GarageBand can make a cleaner, better sounding record than this. Therefore, I have a hard time believing the severe lo-fi-ness of Kudos is anything other than an aesthetic choice. Naturally, this is more a matter of taste and less a quality judgement. Beyond their debatable production choices, Surf City has crafted an excellent debut album with little if any filler. Yes, its influences are easily identifiable and fairly fashionable, but the manner in which they’re woven together renders the “derivative” tag a tad harsh in their case. Most importantly, their tunes are hard to shake. The Dunedin sound’s not going anywhere.

Additional Information

Artist Surf City
Track Listing Crazy Rulers Of The World See How The Sun Kudos Icy Lakes Teacher Yakuza Park Retro In Times Of Approach... Autumn CIA Zombies

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