Maybe because of Surf City’s far-out location, or because they’re so laid back, it’s taken a while for this four-piece from Auckland, New Zealand to get their act together and build an international profile.
Originally called Kill Surf City after the Jesus and Mary Chain song (itself a reference to the 1963 US number 1 hit Surf City), they formed back in 2004, released a self-titled EP three years later but only now have they brought out their debut album, Kudos.
Surf City – who have shared stages in US with Best Coast and Surfer Blood – fit into the “new surf” movement with their laid-back summer beach music, showing the influences of surf rock and shoegaze (or surfgaze). Davin Stoddard’s vocals do not stand out in the general mix of dreamy melodies. They’re offset by loads of fuzzy feedback from guitarist Josh Kennedy, producing an echoing sound that reverberates in the mind like some half-remembered lazy, sunny day.
Kudos’s first track, the single Crazy Rulers Of The World, creates a glorious cascade of noise which floods over your ears taking you with the flow, while See How The Sun has a late ’60s stoned, psychedelic feel to it. The title track shows the band’s Pavement-like lo-fi roots, with guitar drone counterpointed by chirpy backing vocals.
Icy Lakes is by far the longest track at almost eight minutes, but it proves that Surf City can develop a song beyond the normal remit, slowing then surging again with powerful momentum. Sadly, after a promising bass intro from Jamie Kennedy, Teachers drifts by aimlessly like a My Bloody Valentine outtake. Yakuza Park shows the band at their most distorted, with effects pedals to the fore, but doesn’t convince. As its name suggests, the tuneful Retro looks back, specifically to a Phil Spector-style wall-of-sound production, with big drumming from Logan Collins.
In Times Of Approach never really gets going and quickly becomes irritatingly repetitive. Autumn is a mellow, mind-bending acid trip, while in contrast CIA is fast-paced rock ‘n’ roll with soaring Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies. Final track Zombies is a monotonously mid-tempo stomp with an over-extended fade out.
Overall, the layered approach sounds great, but the lyrics tend to be drowned out by the droning background. Some of the songs make an impact but too many blur into each other without being very distinctive. The album is certainly easy to listen to but it could do with a bit more of the focus, directness and urgency of the band’s EP. Perhaps, then Surf City will get the kudos they are looking for.