On their debut LP, the Kiwi quartet provides an exciting update of the Dunedin Sound. They call it “shoewave”.
On their Facebook page, Surf City has listed “shoewave” as their genre. While they are clearly poking fun at the absurdity of genre names like “shoegaze” and “chillwave”, it actually sums up the band’s aesthetic pretty succinctly. Additionally, the quartet hails from Auckland, New Zealand -- an honest-to-god surf city -- but the band got it’s name (originally Kill Surf City) from an old Jesus and Mary Chain b-side. So, yeah, what Surf City has cooked up is a surprisingly exciting combo of Matador and Creation’s ‘90s rosters spiked with heat-seeking surf riffs. Beyond boasting a plethora of hooks, the band injects a healthy amount of stylistic curveballs and perform with the vigor of men who know they have something to prove.
As you might expect, Surf City also taps into the “Dunedin sound” of their Flying Nun forebears the Clean, the Chills, et al. This seeps through most explicitly on the motorik chug of “In Times of Approach...” and the epic “Icy Lakes”. Proving that the Velvet Underground is a well still not dry, the eight-minute-long track plays out like a kiwi-rock revamp of “Sister Ray”: the band locks into a groove and lets the sparks fly as the song propels ever onwards. Fittingly, “Retro” also harkens back to the ‘60s, albeit the more innocent, Spector-esque side of it.
On standout tracks “Yakuza Park” and “Zombies”, Surf City reveals a fondness for Animal Collective. Granted, a debt to AnCo (however small) is pretty much a given for young bands these days, but its not exactly expected from a band whose most obvious reference points are Pavement and the Jesus & Mary Chain. To its credit, Surf City employs Animal Collective’s vocal cadences and rhythmic motifs in a way that meshes seamlessly with its ramshackle Malkmus & Reid homages. “Autumn” is both the finest example of this amalgam and one of the band’s finest tracks to date. It’s also the most deserving of the term “shoewave”.
The missteps on Kudos are few and mostly unrelated to the songwriting. While I appreciate “lo-fi” as much as any indie geek who came of age in the ‘90s, I do not respect it as an aesthetic choice when the option of higher fidelity is available. While I’m sure Surf City didn’t have much of a recording budget, any kid with GarageBand can make a cleaner, better sounding record than this. Therefore, I have a hard time believing the severe lo-fi-ness of Kudos is anything other than an aesthetic choice. Naturally, this is more a matter of taste and less a quality judgement.
Beyond their debatable production choices, Surf City has crafted an excellent debut album with little if any filler. Yes, its influences are easily identifiable and fairly fashionable, but the manner in which they’re woven together renders the “derivative” tag a tad harsh in their case. Most importantly, their tunes are hard to shake. The Dunedin sound’s not going anywhere.