Surfer Blood —
THE GOOD: Indie rockers Surfer Blood regroup after one member dies and another bails. They then get ambitious on album four.
THE BAD: No issues.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Dedicated to original guitarist Thomas Fekete, who succumbed to cancer about a year ago, “Snowdonia” is a cool combination of the band’s overtly melodic roots (simple yet steady tracks such as “Matter of Time” and “Frozen”) and more “progressive” tendencies (the complex yet still infectious “Six Flags in F or G” and the epic title track).
Frontman John Paul Pitts and his crew prove themselves very competent in BOTH settings. The expected hook-heavy splendor is a welcome return to form while the more elaborate arrangements show the band comfortable with experimentation. And these new directions never feel self-indulgent; those effervescent melodies always take center stage.
So perhaps “Snowdonia” is the group’s fine transitional record (“Here’s the new line-up. Welcome to our new era.”). It certainly gets us excited for the next one.
BUY IT?: Yep.
Japandroids — “Near To the Wild
Heart of Life”
THE GOOD: Canadian indie rock duo Japandroids (vocalist/guitarist Brian King and vocalist/drummer David Prowse) comes back with a searing third.
THE BAD: “Heart of Life” is much more polished and layered than the band’s first two records. Could it be an issue with long-time fans? Be prepared.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Many “firsts” here. The pair handled the writing process while living in separate cities, expanded their basic instrumentation (some keyboards) and experimented with overdubs. Don’t panic though. “Heart of Life” is no bid for the mainstream, yet some of the urgency that made the guys’ first two records so enthralling is sadly missing.
You still can’t deny the melodic thrust of songs like the title cut and hyper travelogue “North East South West.” The pair might stumble a bit during the more intricate bits, as they do on the epic “Arc of Bar,” but even that cut shows a glimmer of what can be improved upon over future records.
BUY IT?: Sure.
Elbow — “Little Fictions”
THE GOOD: British indie rock outfit Elbow gives us a fine seventh.
THE BAD: Nothing bad, but not a lot of progression here either. At this point, however, there doesn’t need to be. Elbow is a band that knows its strengths and plays them well.
THE NITTY GRITTY: Frontman/lyricist/guitarist Guy Garvey leads his crew through 10 accomplished tracks boasting interesting rhythmic shuffles; reserved, calculated electric guitars; warm flourishes of piano and the occasional orchestral arrangement that enhances the proceedings as opposed to slathering on the musical syrup. “Fictions” also rides an inherent “even keel” that’s never disrupted. Yet, ever-so-slight changes in mood and tempo assure a compelling listening experience.
Lyrically, Garvey doesn’t stray far from relationships and bits of introspection. However, those somewhat predictable subjects work in these settings. Whether it’s the intimacy of the gently swaying “Head for Supplies,” the atmospheric grace coloring “All Disco” or even the slight bump-and-grind carrying “Firebrand & Angel,” the music and personal observations blend perfectly.
BUY IT?: Oh yes.