With Tarot Classics, Surfer Blood returns in a format that perfectly complements their breezy garage-pop sound: the EP. With all due respect to their debut LP, Astro Coast, the West Palm Beach hipsters' punchy surf rock is best consumed sparingly, preferably while—depending on where you happen to live—aimlessly watching the waves roll in or navigating the tedium of suburbia. Tarot Classics treats listeners to just a slice of Surfer Blood's Blue Album-inspired everyman rock while acting as an expansion on Astro Coast's guitar-drenched offerings, and the result is a stronger, more concentrated dose of beachfaring ear candy.
The sober, almost blasé delivery of his plain-spoken vocals casts leadman John Paul Pitts as more of a second-generation Black Francis than a Brian Wilson, and the song's one-guitar, Pixies-kissed melody lines follow suit. Indeed, Tarot Classics is refreshingly light and atypical of the kind of sudsy and self-indulgent atmospherics usually associated with this brand of music. The only thing that comes close to real sonic density, in fact, is the band's guitarwork, dipped with a low-end, oily distortion that, once upon a time, Weezer used to employ so effectively.
There's a subtle, intrinsic grittiness to the EP that doesn't sound tacked-on in post-production. The fact that most of the songs here sound as though they were recorded with a keen ear and then left alone is Tarot Classics's most endearing quality: It's wonderfully grungy but lacking in any forced lo-fi ostentation or chasm-like aesthetics one would find on, say, a Best Coast release.
Like their unassuming music, Surfer Blood presents a naked and resigned, but largely angst-free, perspective on twentysomething troubles. Pitts and company quickly reiterate their personae as a bunch of scruffy, garage-bound guys more interested in an easygoing jam session than heady, blog-approved art rock. Something like "Drinking Problem," with its pedaling beat and sparse riffs, is clearly not aiming for reinvention, but catchy, easily consumed roadtrip fodder, and it achieves exactly that. From the flicked guitar melodies of "I'm Not Ready" to the layered organ flourishes on "Voyager Reprise," Tarot Classics might be nothing more than a pleasant, irreverent distraction, but Surfer Blood probably wouldn't have it any other way.