The cinématic vérité of, Heaven Surrounds You, Surf Curse’s emotionally raw third album
Written and Photographed by: Mica Kendall
Known since 2015 for their “surf indie rock” sound, Nick Rattigan and Jacob Rubeck of Surf Curse have been influential towards the long running spew of California DIY music by paving the way for other DIY Los Angeles bands. From their staple EP Sad Boys and album Buds to their maturely refined 2017 album Nothing Yet, Surf Curse has proven that time has only made their music stronger, and their latest album release, Heaven Surrounds You, crystallizes the fact that Rattigan and Rubeck are one of the most influential musicians within our generation.
A quality seen in the 12 song titles of Heaven Surrounds You is their homage to movies that range from directors including David Cronenberg, Ingmar Bergman, Dario Argento, and more. Cinema is of essential importance when it comes to influencing the creative process behind Rattigan and Rubeck’s sound, best showcased in their side projects, Current Joys and Gap Girls. Last time Alt Philanthropy spoke to Nick about his release, A Different Age, for Current Joys he referenced the works of Rainer Werner Fassbinder and Chantal Akerman, while Jacob has cited the films of Krzystof Kieślowski as essential to the songs in Street Desires. Heaven Surrounds You follows thematic similarities prevalent in all of the referenced films that range from love and nostalgia to escapism and the grotesque side of the human psyche. Through these complex themes that foster the many emotional layers enriched within the lyrics, harmonies, and instrumentals of the album, Heaven Surrounds You, feels like a movie soundtrack in comparison to previous Surf Curse albums.
Current Joys Alt Philanthropy Interview SXSW 2018
Kicking off the album with “Maps to the Stars,” there is an evident retainment of the upbeat, Surf Curse-esque bouncy guitar riffs that fans of Surf Curse have grown to know and love. Yet amidst the repetitious 4 line verse of Nick crooning, “Hey are you gonna find me/ Look on the maps to the stars/ Oh my heart is on fire/ Burn whoever you are,” the song is instrumentally textualized with various guitar interchanges. This usage of instrumental layering synergized with guitar and drum build ups is also seen in songs like “Rivers Edge” where the feeling of melancholy hits a frustrated crescendo when Nick belts out “And all the people never forget/ All the things you never said.” Additionally in “Midnight Cowboy” towards the end of the second chorus, Jacob’s vocals bleed into a frantic pace instrumental outro that is reminiscent to the guitar and drum breakdown in “Christine F” that leaves the listener feeling like they just endured an emotional form of whiplash.
However, the second track “Labyrinth” contains the standout instrumental build up of the album and perhaps the longest Surf Curse outro ever, in which after the second verse the guitar’s arpeggio envelops the rest of the song. The repetitive guitar melody not only induces an ear worm that will make one want to immediately replay the song, but one can practically envision the frenzied mosh pit that will arise from this song at live shows.
Surf Curse at the Bootleg Theater for the 5 Year Danger Collective Anniversary Show
Needless to say Heaven Surrounds You will inevitably make one dance whether it is in your room or at the live shows with all the other fellow mosh pit goers. The head turning first single of the album, “Disco,” propelled Surf Curse into a spotlight full of newfound fans that cannot deny that “Disco” is the bop of summer 2019. “Disco” is similar to classic Surf Curse bops like the “WOOOOAH” in “Heathers,” except in “Disco” it takes the form of the drum build up alongside Nick screaming “I can’t wait for you” that makes one want to jump around and scream the lyrics out as well. An additional dance worthy track on the album that resembles the catchy guitar chords of “Doom Generation” is “Dead Ringers.” In homage to Cronenberg’s film, “Dead Ringers” contains upbeat instrumental chords mixed with a lyrically somber undertone as Rubeck sings out the lyrics “And I can feel that pain/Wherever you may go.”
Besides the absolute dance inducing bangers on the album, the slower more emotionally heavy tracks on the album are what underscore Heaven Surrounds You as Surf Curse’s best album yet. The third single off of the album, “Hour Of The Wolf,” is in reference to the classic film by Ingmar Bergman. Not only does the track instantly evoke a state of depravity and dread within the first verse of “Beware of the witching hour/ Cause I can feel you in my room,” but the song leaves light for how beauty can still lie within darkness displayed in the lyrics: “But I cant touch your skin/ It burns with the shitty grin of Zeus/ And heaven surrounds you.” In conjunction to how the meaning of the film is focused on the sensation of personal dread where the true threat comes from within man, Surf Curse effectively translated the sense of anguish found in the sadistic protagonist, Johan Borg, while still offering the listener a sense of cathartic reflection. Similar in emotional depth the track, “Trust,” is representative as not only the crux of the album, but one of the best song’s Surf Curse has ever released. “Trust” feels like an emotional rollercoaster that not only makes one feel emotionally vulnerable, but leaves you breathless from the operatic background harmonies that embellish the song.
Portraits of Jacob Rubeck and Nick Rattigan
If you hadn’t already shed a tear by the time you reached “Trust” on the album, the last song on the album “Jamie” is not only a tear jerker, but a song that everyone should listen to. “Jamie” ties all the emotionally varying elements of the album into one comprehensive whole that brings attention to the most important aspect in life: the people in your life. In relation to the track, “Memory,” which lyrically revolves around a personalized memory of singing “every Pavement song we could,” Surf Curse lyrically shares their memories to leave room for the listener to reflect on their own memories in a visceral way. Whether purposeful or not, the way Surf Curse has lyrically reached out to their listeners in order to offer a therapeutic means of self reflection is effectively achieved by bringing what makes life worth living to the forefront of the album. Best emphasized in the final lyrics consisting of a duet harmony between Jacob and Nick passionately repeating “I love all the people in my life/ All my friends keep me alive” the album beautifully reaches its epilogue.
Heaven Surrounds You reflects both experiencing pain and embracing the process of healing. In correlation to the French 60’s film style known as cinéma vérité, or “truth cinema,” defined as depicting realism without artificial effect, Heaven Surrounds You achieves this stylistic technique with its genuine lyrical focus on what it means to go through the psychological twists and turns that come with life. If I could attribute a quote that encapsulates the basis of this album, I would refer it to the words of the existentialist philosopher, Jean Paul Satre, in which he says “life itself is nothing until it is lived, it is we who give it meaning, and value is nothing more than the meaning that we give it.” Surf Curse has created an album with a truthful depiction of human emotion that I believe not only will resonate within the personal lives of other listeners, but also offer valuable solace to those who need it.
Image belongs to Surf Curse.
Stream Heaven Surrounds You here.