If the surf rock/pop scene of a few years ago hasn’t sunk completely without trace it certainly seemed to go in and out with the tide of fashion, but Auckland’s Surf City are still riding the wave. Their particular trippy, introspective version blends psychedelia with shoegazing to produce ‘psychgazing’, so that the overall effect of listening to their music is to feel like you are floating away on a beach as the sun streams down.
Their retro sound may seem to hark back to a ’60s California of The Beach Boys and The Byrds, but it is really filtered through more recent bands such as The Jesus And Mary Chain and Brian Jonestown Massacre as well as lo fi outfits Yo La Tengo and Pavement, not to mention Kiwi record label Flying Nun’s artists like The Clean.
Over the last 10 years Surf City have replaced a couple of band members but their musical character has not changed much. Third album Jekyll Island (named after a popular beach resort off the coast of Georgia, USA), written after travelling around America and Asia, seems a bit more diverse and confident than before but the original hazy, summery wash of sound remains intact. The rhythm section has been slightly beefed up to good effect against the jangling guitars, though Davin Stoddard’s agreeably dreamy vocals still placed well back in the fuzzy mix are not distinctive enough to grab attention so the lyrics tend to drift off into the ether.
Opening track Beat The Summer Heat begins with an Eastern-style drone before a thudding groove sets in as Stoddard’s high-pitched vocals waft coolly on top. Spec City passes by pleasantly without making much of an impact as the singer laments, “It was later than we ever dreamed.” In Jekyll Island And The Psycosphere reverb guitar overlays a strong bass line that becomes over-repetitive. Hollow Veins has something of the pop-punk catchiness of the early Ramones as the lover bemoans the bloodless response to his advances, while One Too Many Things’ melodic mellowness is more pastoral.
What They Need starts with what sounds like a didgeridoo and a back beat before the half-sung vocals express the relaxed sentiment of “Sometimes you just have to let things go”, and Leave Your Worries continues the chilled out vibe. Indian Summer is so laid back as to be almost horizontal, while Thumbs Up’s positive attitude is engagingly chirpy. The End darkens the mood slightly, before the album ends on a high note with Jesus Elvis Coca Cola as the echoey Stoddard seems to be singing in the clouds.
These pleasing pop melodies and hooks set within a woozy, layered texture once again show Surf City’s attractive qualities, though their derivativeness means they have yet to really establish their own individual musical identity. Jekyll Island is probably not going to be their breakthrough album to a wider public, but their forthcoming debut European tour is bound to bring them some new fans.