Surfer Blood's dalliance with a major label should definitely be filed under "Be careful what you wish for."
When the Florida band unveiled its distinctive, retro-sounding, forward-thinking sound at CMJ Music Marathon in 2009, it touched off a frenzy of hype, with the entire festival trying to get in on the action. Eventually, Warner Bros. Records landed Surfer Blood, but the band's suddenly sleek, seemingly radio-friendly major-label debut "Pythons" landed with a thud. The Gil Norton-produced album had polished off the band's unique bits and unpredictability and left it sounding a bit generic.
For Surfer Blood's new album, "1000 Palms" (Joyful Noise), the band has retraced its steps. "It feels like the last few years were kind of a false start, but that's what being a grown-up about this is like, admitting you made some decisions that weren't in your best interest in the long run," singer John Paul Pitts recently told the Broward/Palm Beach New Times.
On "1000 Palms," Surfer Blood took matters into its own hands, recording and producing the album itself, putting a dizzying array of left-of-center styles held together by Pitts' sweet voice and Thomas Fekete's inventive guitar work.
"Grand Inquisitor" will remind fans of the band's first album, "Astro Coast" (Kanine), with all its tempo changes and wild guitar sounds built by Fekete, currently battling a rare kind of cancer and unable to tour with the band. On "I Can't Explain," they take a simple rock arrangement and adorn it with echoing surf-guitar flourishes, weird backing vocals and thunderous percussion.
Surfer Blood is free to try whatever works here and it shows. On "Saber-Tooth & Bone," that means an opening influenced by the Beach Boys' "Pet Sounds." On "Into Catacombs," it leads to a math-rock waltz.
Surfer Blood's joy of invention is infectious and "1000 Palms" seems set to put the band back on their original frenzy-inducing path.
THE GRADE A-