Existential Playboy is the latest record from New York’s Surf Rock is Dead. The band specializes in an energetic mix of dreamy 80’s pop and shoegaze, which they have solidified to create this explosion of psychedelic bliss. They use bright hooks and melodies underlaid with melancholic themes and undertones. This conflict gives the album an interesting variety, one that prevails through its 10 tracks.
Although the band takes heavy influence from an established 80’s sound, the production here is elevated by modern techniques, making it crisper and more dynamic. Their core blend of upbeat and reverb-heavy shoegaze with translucent vocals is weaved and contorted into something new with each track. This makes each song entirely distinct from one another while clearly within the core of SRiD’s sound.
Opener “Our Time” is an upbeat song filled with crystalline riffs that proudly celebrates the night-owl lifestyle, where creatives and musicians thrive on: “Our time is the night time / waiting for no one.” “Away Message” has jangly and bright guitars that’s reminiscent of summer. It has several nods to the Bangles with its campy hooks, but the band’s signature way of drenching it in a thick haze of shimmering textures gives it an otherworldly feeling.
The band also offers a few change-ups in style. “Immaculate” is crafted to be more in line with modern pop songwriting techniques. The track starts with a drum pad rhythm that has a syncopated R&B feel, while each new element is layered slowly into a glorious blend of harmonies that flood the senses. “Solid Ties” takes on danceable rhythm while being cramped with menacing industrial rhythms and textures. The song is about the struggle to find friendship and meaningful relationships in a city where everyone’s schedule never seems to line up: “Everyone tries on city time / All that I want, true solid ties.”
“Miss You” takes on a post-punk turn. Arpeggiated riffs out-phase each other with each pulse, creating a blur where it’s hard to distinguish where it starts and ends. This is perfectly apt for a song of longing for someone you dearly miss. The layer of humanity that constantly cuts through SRiD’s flood of digital instruments is what makes this collection captivating.
“always learning what not to do” ends the album in a stripped down note. There are a lot of elements here, including a slew of digital percussion and harmonies, but even with its minimal aesthetic it still feels lush and full. Surf Rock is Dead is really good at what they do, ushering rock music into a world where electronic music is more dominant and taking it to new heights.