Making a follow-up album to an acclaimed debut is incredibly difficult for the vast majority of bands. A band that must do so while making the sometimes contentious transition from an indie to a major label faces additional complexity. Throw in an arrest for domestic battery for your frontman and it becomes an almost impossible task. Confronted with this myriad of issues, it comes as no real surprise that Surfer Blood’s sophomore LP, Pythons, fails to measure up to 2010’s Astro Coast.
That’s not to say that Pythons doesn’t start off with real promise. Right out of the gate, heavy guitars riffs and rich lyrical imagery propel ‘Demon Dance’ into the listener’s eardrums. The start of the third verse, where frontman John Paul Pitts sings “Apologies, meet apologies/We could demon dance all night” shows a rawer edge than what can be heard on earlier work. This is quite appealing in the midst of their typical surf-pop sound, which makes ‘Demon Dance’ the best track of the record.
‘Gravity’, the subsequent song, returns to the aforementioned surf-pop sound, but with dark lyrics that suitably represent the remorse Pitt must feel regarding the events leading to his arrest. The contrast between the bright and cheery guitar hooks and these lyrics add an interesting element to what easily could have been just another filler song. Trying to build on this theme is ‘Weird Shapes’. However, here the lyrics take a turn down the road to melodrama, and one starts to wonder if this band has anything to sing about other than Pitts’s love troubles.
Sadly, the remainder of the album continues down this track, and the listener has to be thankful that the remaining 23-odd minutes will be over soon. Throughout the last 7 songs, the band fail to break out of this rut, as they all sound very similar at first blush, with the exception of the slower, more delicate ‘Needles and Pins’. However, even this song still fails to inspire anything other than a “meh”, especially when compared to Surfer Blood’s outstanding earlier work.
While Pitts surely deserves some credit for facing his arrest so squarely through his music, one has to wonder if reminding the listener of this fact so often was a great decision. If the group had been able to add some variety to the lyrics to go along with what is a generally smoother sound, then they might have been a bit more successful. While Pythons is certainly a disappointment, Surfer Blood might be able to take off again, but only if Pitts is able to put the specter of his arrest behind him.