Ok so just to be clear, this isn’t technically an album; rather an extended version of Black Surf‘s debut EP Let’s Pretend It’s Summer. This longer edition collects some early singles and never-heard-before tracks, together with the four songs from the original release earlier this year. Putting out what is essentially a rarities compilation at the beginning of their career may seem an odd thing to do; but then this band haven’t exactly conformed to any usual route yet, forming via the wonders of technology across not just an ocean but the entire planet. Despite this, the album sounds like it could well have been bashed out in a garage in the band’s official hometown of Leeds. As you listen, grungy riffs jostle breezy fuzz-pop for the attention of your ears, both energising and soothing simultaneously.
The cherry on the top of this improbable mix are the interludes, which far from being anything I’ve heard on a record before comprise seemingly genuine voice messages from members of the public responding to adverts they’ve seen for “black surfers” – I do so hope they let 82-year-old Ethel Ethel join the band, as she wishes! Starting the record with one of these recordings sets the scene on Black Surf – they’re not in the practise of taking themselves too seriously. The passion in the music though is undoubtedly earnest; if the effort they’ve gone through to make this band happen doesn’t convince that they mean business then first track proper Rebel And The Saint will. Utilising their nineties influences’ grasp on dynamics to the full, it tears its own path into the audible car crash that is Vultures – oh, that’s a good thing yeah.
Get Up and Bastard Man are the first songs featured from the original EP, the latter probably the catchiest Black Surf have written (though there are definitely a few here in contention for that title), despite its lyrical darkness. The placement of these split across the album shows that, while there’s no doubt that the four tracks chosen for the initial release were the right ones, those leftover were of equally impressive quality and not so much different in style. Then just as you’re convinced you’ve got their indie-alt-rock sound pegged, Dive with its political-rant-rap proves you misled; while this band clearly know what they want to be, there’s still space to try something a bit different and whilst it means the seventeen tracks here don’t always have the smoothest sense of cohesion, that’s not the point of this release.
There’s A Way Hose sits towards the end of the record and its title sums up everything learned so far, in that while Let’s Pretend It’s Summer can stylistically be taken literally as this on the surface is fuzzy slacker rock, beneath that is a genuinely positive vibe of overcoming obstacles, that may relate to both the band’s less-than-simple formation and/or life in general. If you’re not a fan of the current wave of grunge-pop that seems to be emanating from Yorkshire in particular then this might pass you by, as certain sounds throughout this album, and even some of the lyrics seem to point to specific influences. To draw attention though to how the band wear these on their sleeve is futile because they are what they want to be, and have gone through too much effort to get here to worry whether that matters to you. And from the verses of yearning little ditty Baby Blue Washburn through hazy shoegaze à la Sink to the noisier garage rock of Screaming At The Sky, there’s variation enough here to keep not just the scenesters but potentially a mainstream audience interested, in a genre where’s it’s so easy to sound derivative.
Army Of Sheep and Lights Out precede Let’s Pretend It’s Summer but have their place here too, maybe a little more straightforward, but the band are clearly still proud of these early songs and deservedly so. Both will undoubtedly be fan favourites for years to come, and it’s this future that Black Surf are clearly looking towards. Releasing an album of bits and pieces so soon comes across as a statement of intent – this is what they’ve created up to this point, and it definitely builds excitement for the next stage of their already-global journey.