Album Review: "Pythons" | Surfer Blood
Let’s get the elephant out of the room right up front, shall we? Surfer Blood frontman, John Paul Pitts, was arrested on March 31, 2012 for assaulting his girlfriend.
After the case was mostly hushed up and never brought up by the band with all subsequent details squashed (including the nameless girlfriend who’s side of the story still has yet to be told), the first bit of information concerning the case was brought to light only earlier this year, with the disclosure that Pitts had agreed to a “plea and pass” agreement. The agreement would formally drop all the charges by April 2013.
Suffice to say I think Pitts is quite simply an awful human being, and feel more than a little disgusted that this isn’t being brought up as much as I feel like it should.
Separation of artists and their personal lives be damned. Ignoring abuse means precious little to the victims whose lives become a living hell when their abuser not only seemingly gets off scotch free, but thanks to their exalted position, have supporters who will actively deny the victim’s suffering or downplay it in support of their perceived “hero”.
Throw in the fact that Pitts escaped the pitchforks and torches from a society that had no problem running Chris Brown’s name into the ground at every opportunity it got (not remotely condoning Chris Brown’s behavior, who has demonstrated his awfulness as a human being more times than bare repeating), hints at some very dark mindsets our society has for choosing our victims and who “deserved” punishment and/or alienation.
Now that that’s out of the way, I can acknowledged that Surfer Blood are a collection of lads from Florida who show some marked improvement since their 2010 full length debut, Astro Coast.
Pythons keeps to those same distilled elements that made Surfer Blood stand out in the beginning: their first single “Swim” has those same catchy, infectious pop hooks, sun-soaked guitar riffs and chest-pounding choruses. Surfer Blood did a fine job of blending pop rock with punk-flavored guitar testosterone on their first album, but on Pythons they gleefully demonstrate some new guitar tricks they’ve picked up since last time.
The first half of the album is a kick in the teeth of feel good frenzy. “Demon Days” blends Beach Boy hooks (doo-wahs, sing-songy chorus) with raucous guitars and an attitude that screams “fist pump” at the top of its lungs. And this isn’t a bad thing by any means.
When it comes to nailing those pre-verse hooks, Surfer Blood do it so effortlessly that the screaming crescendo that actually is the chorus catches you completely by surprise. It’s a trend that’s repeated on the album, but each time with a little spin on it, and it never quite wears out its welcome. “Gravity” and Weird Shapes” continue the trend, hitting for the first time at Pitt’s enjoyable, breathless, punk rock howl that breaks through his otherwise poppier vocals.
The album doesn’t slow down its sonic assault until the slower, ballad-esque, “I Was Wrong”, which gives the band room to show off some honed melodic chops without the muscle-bound riffing. “Squeezing Blood” may be the most sonically diverse song on this album and subsequently among the best; an unconventional jangle of tropical guitar notes bleeds right into a thrashing riff frenzy that’d make J. Mascis proud. The constant balance of poppy beach rock with beer-fueled guitar rock is the real draw here, and it’s handled very well throughout the album.
“Needles and Pins”, and album closer, “Prom Song”, are the only otherwise duds here. Other than that, it’s not a bad run.
The only otherwise damning thing about the album are the lyrics. I understand that most of this album was already written before Pitt’s arrest, so it would seem at first that you shouldn’t take offense at too many of the questionable lyrics. As he was on the last album, Pitts is very much a writer in his own head, with plenty of songs centering on themes of failed relationships.
But that’s a quality that feels so much worse in hindsight knowing that this is where his head space was before the altercation. And lines like “Looked in a mirror today/Then I got scared” (Blair Witch), “Filled myself with doubt/Now we don’t have to say sorry” (Squeezing Blood), and “If I feel upset would you stay?” (I Was Wrong), can be pretty off-putting given the recent circumstances.
Pythons is the epitome of a great summer guitar album and, if it didn’t come with so much baggage thrown on it courtesy of its singer, it’d be almost perfect. As it stands, it’s an otherwise great sophomore album marred by the actions of one individual, who I hope won’t allow himself to forget them.