During the 13 shows Surfer Blood played at CMJ in 2009, it didn't seem to dawn on people that these kids might actually be in it for the long haul. It was the handful they played at last year's festival that saw them turning the corner from buzzy upstarts to something more serious. As the band, at least in a live setting, started to focus on the 90s-tinged, harder-edged parts of their sound rather than its surf and Afro-pop elements, critics could no longer lump them in with the cresting beach-band trend. Tarot Classics, their first release since, dips into a range of sounds with the hope that it lands them a part in music's larger conversation.
They could make a hooky melody pretty much out of anything, a point quickly proven by placing "I'm Not Ready" at the top of the tracklist. Rising out of a grainy background and baiting bassline, singer/guitarist John Paul Pitts fluctuates between swinging-for-the-rafters bark and a creamy baritone, carving out a strange stop-motion melody that sees the rest of the band holding back from Astro Coast's power-pop surge. It sounds more seedy than sunny and still manages to be catchy as all get-out. "Miranda," the EP's nearest return to the 90s template of their debut (guitar solo, harmonies, Blue Album-nods) segues into "Voyager Reprise" via a warped sample from the Jaws soundtrack, a nice tongue-in-cheek touch. From here on out, anything beach-related is shelved for synths, drum machines and streaming sci-fi effects in an attempt to show variation. For a lasting impression, closer "Drinking Problem" pins noisy guitar feedback against canned jungle rhythms. The on-trend bands Surfer Blood got grouped with in the early days of Astro Coast — Beach Fossils, Wavves, et. al. — may have perfected the sound of not caring, but it's becoming increasingly clear that Surfer Blood cares. They want their music to do more than soundtrack a dorm-room party or a day at the beach. They want to make a career out of it.