Snowdonia is Surfer Blood’s most honest and ambitious album yet; it takes us to a much colder and darker place than the Florida natives have explored before. Following frontman John Paul Pitt’s assault charges on his girlfriend in 2012, his own mother being diagnosed with breast cancer, and the loss of the band’s guitarist, Thomas Fekete, Pitt had a lot of reflection and re-evaluation to do. Snowdonia, in my eyes, marks Pitt’s awakening from being a frat boy who never grew up to thoughtful and reminiscent. John Paul Pitt is a jerk, and Snowdonia is his shot for redemption.
Interestingly enough, the lyrical flow of this album rings of a Parquet Courts song. Though an unlikely influence, I soon found Parquet Court’s 2016 single “Outside” on Paul’s 2016 Favorites Spotify playlist . Like Parquet Courts, there is a heavy focus on emotional honesty within the lyrics. “I became completely lucid. Said ‘who are, who are you?’”, Pitt sings on the haunting leading track “Six Flags in F or G”, “I felt his icy breath”. Clearly a reference to the passing of Fekete, Pitt speaks of how he often feels his presence still lingering from beyond the grave. This depth brings on an exceedingly different tone compared to tracks in the group’s past discography, which was strong in beachy vibes, but not a whole lot of context or lyrical complexity. The tragedies leading up to Snowdonia were the inspirational kick to transform Pitt into quite the thoughtful songwriter.
“Matter of Time” is another stand-out track on the album; it also tackles themes of death with a nihilistic touch. Each guitar bridge gives the listener a moment to reflect and take in what Pitt has just preached or reflected on, and it is enough to catalyze an existential crisis at times. I do not think there is one song on this album that does not ponder our impermanence on this Earth. It is possible to tune your ear to overlook the layers among layers of dread and agony associated with death and loss intertwined throughout the album, and emphasize the upbeat tunes for quite the dance party. To do that, however, would not only dismiss the real transformational journey we follow Pitt on from track to track, but would be missing Snowdonia’s point as well. It is easy to be ignorant and completely can our behavior and ill-effects on others, but it is impossible to grow as a person until admitting fault, and taking an honest shot for redemption. Even by the album’s title, and it’s stellar ballad of a title-track, Snowdonia implies that the world, or even the mind as well, can be a cold, cold place. But we have the power to melt this metaphorical ice away from within us.
Do not think Surfer Blood has transformed into some sort of sad boy group, however. Especially on songs “Taking Care of Eddy”, and the closing track “Carrier Pigeon,” there is an spirit of gratitude towards the life experience. We are all going to experience pain and die, we do not even know why we are here, we did not ask for this life. John Paul recalls deep appreciation for his mother and sister on “Carrier Pigeon”, summoning appreciation just for their existence, and the way they have touched his life. They are just as lost he is in this life, but everyone is on this journey together. Nice! This album was everything I did not expect from Surfer Blood, and generally very moving and relatable to listeners. The band managed to sail new territory, and succeeded.
Favorite tracks: “Six Flags in F or G”, “Carrier Pigeon”, “Frozen”, “Snowdonia”
Least favorite: “Instant ‘Doppelgängers”