The last three years have been all about change for Surfer Blood. These days, you would never be able to tell that the band began as a bedroom project; you'd never guess that their 2010 debut Astro Coast was a charmingly lo-fi album. Everything about its follow-up is bigger. They signed to a major label for Pythons in the States. They recorded the album at the legendary EASTWEST Studios, which any Beach Boys fan worth their salt will know as the place where Brian Wilson and co. recorded Pet Sounds 47 years ago. They even - gasp! - worked with a producer. Whom? Oh, just Gil Norton. No big deal. Everything's different, especially following the domestic abuse case involving frontman John Paul Pitts, and yet, it doesn't sound like much has changed on initial listens. Writing melodically impressive pop songs is what the quartet have done before now, and they'll surely continue to do that in their own way, no matter what direction their future material takes; but for their major-label debut, everything has been scrubbed up. Polished whilst not sounding too sleek, this is Surfer Blood circa 2013, and they've served up a seriously addictive album.
Right from the off, as 'Demon Dance' roars into life, the hooks and choruses come across much more forcefully than before, every drum fill and compelling chord progression deliciously clear. Frontman John Paul Pitts sounds almost nothing like he used to; the confidence in his voice as he belts out such choice lines as, "Let me suck the marrow from your bones" and, "Gravity will bring our orbits together" (the latter from the serotonin-boosting 'Gravity', a carefree love song anchored to a classic song structure which almost tips over into shoegaze during its instrumental bridge) is palpable, and his voice is arguably the key instrument on the record, though the greatly improved drumming courtesy of Tyler Schwarz would beg to differ; his refined drumming style brings an even more propulsive punch to 'Weird Shapes', and ensures that he essentially has 'Say Yes to Me' all to himself. The band's sound has been tightened up considerably, meaning that they can take more risks - the explosion of melody and beefed-up guitar toward the end of 'Squeezing Blood' is something they wouldn't have gone near on their debut.
Maybe 2011 EP Tarot Classics acted as a bridge between then and now, but the songs on Pythons are light years ahead of what's gone before. This becomes most apparent when the band slow it down just a little for 'Needles and Pins', waltzing their way through the best song they've written so far. Pitts is backed up by close-knit harmonies, chiming guitars and a wistful-sounding acoustic guitar which provides the song's foundations. This proves beyond a doubt that the band have left behind their old sound; for all intents and purposes, they're a power-pop band now, and indeed, they've made one of the most powerful pop statements of the year. Surfer Blood as we knew them are dead - the new incarnation sound like they're headed for big things. Pythons could be their watershed.