Surfer Blood’s fourth album is an emotional affair. ‘Snowdonia’ is upbeat, laid-back and whimsical in places, but running underneath is a vein of grief that can’t be overlooked. As the band’s first record since the passing of their guitarist Thomas Fekete in March 2016, ‘Snowdonia’ marks a difficult crossroads in Surfer Blood’s story. Frontman John Paul Pitts grapples with this on ‘Six Flags in F or G’, the bass-driven single that sees him attempt to make sense of the loss of his friend. ‘Six Flags…’ seems to cycle through the stages of mourning, starting with a panicky, angry rhythm that plays into John Paul’s hyper-awareness that he and Thomas had been running out the clock. His grief is palpable, but acceptance soon creeps in and the track spins on a see-sawing guitar riff until he declares ‘one of these days we’ll never be apart again’.
In its own way, album closer ‘Carrier Pigeon’ is just as emotionally fraught. The tender, doo-wop influenced track sees John Paul reconcile his love for his parents with his distaste for their beliefs, without becoming heavy-handed or gauche. The record’s darker themes are countered by the towering, jangly guitars on ‘Matter of Time’ and ‘Frozen’s cautious optimism. Buoyant romp ‘Taking Care of Eddy’ also helps restore the balance.
Despite his absence Thomas Fekete’s influence is still clear, with his favoured tricks and techniques coming through in John Paul’s song-writing and the band’s musicianship.
After a difficult few years, ‘Snowdonia’ proves that a steady hand and a playful surf-rock riff has seen Surfer Blood through the darkness and out the other side.