Surfer Blood: Pythons (Warner Bros.)

The guitars on Surfer Blood's 2010 debut, Astro Coast, were draped everywhere like alien vines. They were thick, layered and twitching. That is not the sound of Pythons, despite its serpentine title. Here we find the band ditching the Sonic Youth walls of sound and the venomous Superchunk assaults to become a straight-up power-pop band. Those "woo-woo" choruses and layered, harmonizing vocals feel strange coming out of John Paul Pitts' mouth (and not only because of his Chris Brown impression from last spring). Astro Coast was evilly psychedelic; Pythons is depressingly clean-cut.

If the MTV folks of the late 1990s were to travel through time to reinvent Surfer Blood for the Buzz Bin, they might have engineered exactly this sound. There are some pretty comical Nirvana-esque yelps behind the chorus of "Weird Shapes," and "I Was Wrong" seems expressly made to soundtrack the disaffected prom experiences of America's youth. There's actually a track named "Prom Song," but it's much more likable because of the Morrissey impression Pitts is doing. In fact, there's vaguely an English lilt to several of these songs, like "Say Yes to Me."

Taken out of context, Pythons is a fine enough record. And it has bursts of their old weirdness—the sizzling riff that girds the bridge of "Gravity," for instance. But for lovers of Astro Coast, this is like your deliciously skuzzy friend reinvented himself as a country clubber. It's fine; it's his choice; but it's a bit of a bummer.

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