1000 Palms, the third LP from surf-pop-grunge quartet Surfer Blood, could hardly have been released in more dramatic circumstances. After their first major label LP release, Pythons, the group decided to ditch the big-league contract and return to a more hands-on approach to recording. But the drama of label politics and back-room recording sessions have been overshadowed by something that no one could have anticipated when the group first caught our eye back in 2010.
Guitarist Thomas Fekete has recently been diagnosed with a particularly aggressive form of cancer and is currently fighting to raise funds for treatment. You can find out more, or give to the cause here.
This unexpected and tragic turn of events remains undetectable in the album. As single “Dorian” goes to show, Surfer Blood are in no danger of leaving behind the trade-mark hazy, sun-drenched nostalgia that perfuses their sound. Couched in the language of Beach-Boy guitar riffs and the pot-smoking indolence of Best Coast, 1000 Palms uses this bitter-sweet, sunshine-infused sense of longing as the base from which to blend a multitude of shades of nostalgic yearning.
This LP is, when you break it down, simply a collection of orthodox love songs. At times, it verges on saccharine, but these heart-felt, jubilant moments are so unexpected they are actually endearing. “Sabre-Tooth and Bone” does not give you any warning that Surfer Blood are about to practically quote The Carpenters. And then - BAM– out of nowhere: “You know our lives have only just begun”. This is a song about home-building, about crafting a life - with a decent dose of distortion thrown in, just to temper all that cheerfulness.
“Covered Wagons” marks a return to the kind of slick, 90s guitar pop that Surfer Blood nailed on Pythons. It has the polished melancholy of the Gin Blossoms, infused with a hint of 80s synth. “Other Dessert Cities” encapsulates the playful creativity that is Surfer Blood at their best; they play with the tempo and throw jagged afro-beat guitar riffs up against a power-ballad drum beat. “NW Passage”, the album's final track, is quiet, delicate and reflective. Acoustic guitar and exposed vocal unfurl against a backdrop of birdsong. Much like the rest of the LP, this track is awash with muted happiness.
Despite the painful circumstances of its release, 1000 Palms is a record about optimism and, as Fekete writes in his appeal, “love and light”.