“1000 Palms” opens with pitch-bent drones, an explosion of thumping toms, squiggly guitars and a lot of promise.
Surfer Blood’s third full-length record never quite matches that intensity again, not to mention the energy of “Astro Coast,” the Florida band’s debut. Where the dreamy haze of “Astro Coast” felt electrified, this album’s dreaminess can feel sleepy. It’s a little like driving for miles and suddenly snapping back into a reality you hadn’t meant to slip out of, realizing you don’t remember a single turn or light. Most of the album feels reserved, held at the same midtempo trot. That’s interesting when you consider that Surfer Blood is no longer with a major label. If anything, this was an opportunity to recapture the magic of “Astro Coast” that was fading on “Pythons.”
There’s much more context here than a move back to an indie label, unfortunately. Frontman John Paul Pitts’ arrest for domestic battery still floats around the edges of public consciousness, though he was never charged and has moved on. And, this year, Thomas Fekete was diagnosed with cancer. It’s impossible not to have those things in mind while listening to “1000 Palms,” but then the album never really goes there, at least not explicitly. It’s about love and other struggles, for the most part, which can mean toothache-sweet lyrics or something as direct and relatable as “Sometimes I feel out of touch with who I am / It’s feast or famine”
It’s all done well, even if it lacks some some of the hoped-for bite and rawr. The songs on “1000 Palms” are thickly layered and heavily textured without the sum of the parts sounding sludgy. The juxtaposition of fuzz and clear-ringing melody Surfer Blood does so well shines on “I Can’t Explain,” the album’s most beautiful song. And there are so many great details throughout — the interplay of guitars on “Into Catacombs,” the queasy, scratchy sound hiding in the background of “Saber-Tooth & Bone,” the 8-bit-like synth touches on “Other Desert Cities” and the simple, lovely, acoustic change of pace on the last song, “NW Passage.”
For all the lovely things Surfer Blood did on this record, it’s just not what we were hoping for. “1000 Palms” is by no means bad — it’s a good listen with plenty of rewards if you really tune in — but it’s still another let down from a band that’s impressed us before.