The Inner City Surfers for the first time, namely their self-titled debut album! This is an archive review due to no new local heavier/punk album releases in May 2019, and I went with a Surfers album to tie in with frontman Dustin Jones' Music 4 Kayge set with The Rising Tide last week. I opted not to review a Rising Tide CD out of deference to their forthcoming album, so as to not delay it's review on the site. Independently released in 2000, "Inner City Surfers" (retroactively nicknamed "The Blue Album") was largely recorded in drummer Mikey Hawdon's basement with producer and Fistmagnet alum Garry Ingram aside from tracks #4 & #11, which were recorded with Wayne Lorenz, who mastered the album with Jeff Elliot at Reaction Studios in Toronto, while Wayne mixed 8 songs and Kite Eating Maples drummer Ryan Gassi mixed the other four.
Apple Music, Amazon, YouTube, and Spotify, and physical copies might surface at The Rad Zone, where I bought mine. Featuring 12 songs running for over 33 minutes in length, let's begin this review with it's opening track! "The Blue Album" begins with "Ford Upton", which opens with a solitary bass intro by Brad before Dustin's vocals kick in, and they are much rawer and plain than fans may expect compared to the last 20 years of his career. Once the song kicks in fully, it has a nice melodic bent while maintaining it's relatable punk attitude that served them well throughout their mid-2000s heyday, complete with an aggressive late stretch to add to it's variety.
What strikes me about this song is it's piecemeal, nontraditional structure with no true chorus, and which feels like a few songs chopped together, almost like The Surfers foreshadowed "Jesus of Suburbia". I don't love "Ford Upton" compared to some of their later and catchier fan favourites, but it has ambition and talent, even at this very early stage of their run! Second up is "Goin' Out", which fittingly starts with a car ignition slowly getting turned on. The song proper is more of a standard pop punk original that retains some of the folksy Tide-esque rhythms, and this serves as a good showcase for Dave & Dustin's solid riffing on the choruses! The chugging bridge is effective too, but I wish that the verses flowed more naturally, as the song feels stitched together at the seams here, albeit not in a progressive nature like on "Ford Upton". However, this is a more fun track for Surfers diehards, and delivers the goods that we came to expect on later albums!
That's followed by "Venture On", a relatively long surf rock instrumental, with the title presumably a reference to legendary surf rock quartet The Ventures. Unique concept for a local band of their young age in 2000, one has to assume! Dynowaves fans may want to take extra note. I'm not a surf rock scholar, but this sounds the part and the guys deliver well, with a fun and light guitar melody and solid drums to go around! That said, I do prefer The Surfers' edgier punk material. We more or less get that on the next song, "Been Done", though the laid back nature maintains, with Dustin's singing all at a lower, more reserved register. If anything, this song serves a good "example" of Brad's then-bass skill, and there's a nice extended guitar solo from Dave to boot, so the second half of the song improves to me! I just wish that the vocals and verses were more upbeat, and with the recording quality from 19 years ago, there is some mild distortion in the lyrics.
Song #5 is "4 Months", which is the hardest-driving and most skate punk-esque song yet, and that contrasts well with Dustin's softer, band-less singing in the verses! The music is firing on all cylinders, and Mikey's drumming is at it's best on the album so far, while the dual guitar attack compliments everything as well as you'd expect! However, I have two major drawbacks from it: The very quiet, lost-in-the-mix chorus vocals, and the song's fade-out, which comes out of nowhere during what feels like a bridge, yet still runs too long. Overall, a flawed but very entertaining song as we near the midpoint of the CD! Next is "A Few Drinks", a softer acoustic number which (I think) only features Brad on vocals. This is more of a drinking song to play at the bar, so the unplugged approach works for the intended vibe, which has a country/blues essence. It's not my cup of tea, but if you like homespun drinking songs, you should get enjoyment out of it!
"Sunday Drive", which is a return to upbeat modern punk form for The Surfers, and this has a full-on skate punk sound with nicely driving guitar riffs and more standout drumming from Mikey along the way, not to mention another of Dave's great guitar solos! Easily my favourite song on "The Blue Album" so far, I just wish that the vocals were louder in the mix to better compliment the heavier sound, but overall, this delivers the goods for fans of late 1990s/early 2000s original punk rock! Mikey's drumming kicks off the next song "Backwards", which is another nicely paced punk song with strong instrumentation, albeit here with more of a galloping quality. Again however, Dustin's vocals are not mixed well with the music, and he really sounds muddled here, not helped by his folksier singing for much of the track. I like the drum hits in the chorus, and it's a solidly composed song!
Ninth on "Inner City Surfers" is "Whole Lot Happier", another strong skate punk number with a nice guitar riff, and it contains some of the most aggressive vocals yet in the chorus, contrasting well with Dustin's reserved singing in the verses (which are mixed louder here.) I sort of got an Alexisonfire vibe from the chorus yelling, as it was over top of softer music than the singing would seem to call for, if that makes sense. The song ends before I expected, alas, as it had a nice sonic balance while it lasted, and everyone performed well! That's followed by "Commandments" (renamed to "10 Commandments" for it's digital release), which more modern fans may recognize from Jack Spades' 2015 cover that Dustin actually produced. A fast and heavy track with very angry (but distorted & repetitive) vocals, this is the closest that The Surfers get to hardcore punk on the CD, and it's an effective blast, ending before it gets overdone! Solidly heavy guitar work, and Brad's bass playing fits like a glove!
"Last One", which is by far the album's longest track. In spite of that, this is a very fast song with nicely sung vocals from Dustin that contrast well with the harder-hitting instrumentation, though the slow bass stretch by Brad past the halfway mark does stall the momentum somewhat. The closing instrumental break is nicely done and has a folksy essence while still retaining a fast punk sound, and you get a nice showcase of everyone's musical abilities without things dragging on too long! Another highlight on the album, for sure! The actual last one is the 81 seconds-long "Mexican Porn Shop". I'm not sure what I expected going in, but it wasn't a hardcore punk song with lyrics exclusively in Spanish! Why am I getting a Suicidal Tendencies vibe from this one? I don't speak Spanish, so I don't know what Dustin's singing, but the title implies everything is very tongue-in-cheek. It's a chaotic and fun song while it lasts, but it ends the album with a lot of questions.
So, what are my final thoughts on The Inner City Surfers' debut album? While there was room to grow, this was a solid debut album from this very talented four-some, and it showcased their punk base while also diversifying well into other sounds! To me, The Surfers were at their best with fast-paced skate punk, and we got a lot of that on album highlights like "Goin' Out", "Sunday Drive", and "Last One", but things diversified into blues, hardcore, and even surf rock on certain tracks. Dustin Jones and Dave Bahun were a great match on guitar, Brad Lacell's bass work was always solid to set the tone, and Mike Hawdon's drum abilities were never in doubt! Dustin's singing was largely solid, but the mix of his vocals was inconsistent, with some songs burying his vocals, and others distorting them too much. I won't complain about the production quality otherwise (the CD is 19 years old, after all), but the vocals could have been clearer. If that's my big issue, that's a good sign!
This isn't peak Surfers (check out their also-self titled 2007 CD for that), but "The Blue Album" laid the foundation for a lot of great music to come, and for what this was, it's a solid entry point for the guys, and any fan of theirs will find a lot to like here! Give this CD a listen or buy it at the above links! I hope you guys liked this month's CD review, but what will we be reviewing on the site next month? I don't know yet, but here's what I can say. A new album release from a local metal, hard rock, or punk act will of course take precedence, and our next "Where Are The New Albums?" post on Sunday will give some ideas as to what may be released soon! If nothing comes out, we would dip into the archives, tying in a review with an artist playing live locally if at all possible, though time will tell what is next. If nothing fits, I'd go with a prominent local album I haven't reviewed yet, and I know there's a Woods of Ypres release I haven't done yet... we'll see, but stay tuned for weekend concert previews next, and much more as we enter June! Thanks everyone!