Kevin Pariso and Joel Witenberg will tell you they don’t take themselves too seriously. Hence the name of their band, Surf Rock Is Dead (that’s SRiD for short), and the title of their debut album, Existential Playboy. This playfulness informs their music, a hybrid of surf rock, shoegaze, goth, and new wave, through which the duo meditate on the paradoxes of modern life.
Pariso (vocals and guitar) and Witenberg (vocals and bass), each historically musicians in other people’s projects—Witenberg as a drummer and producer, Pariso as a guitarist and producer—found themselves hyped on jamming together. Their chemistry’s been off the cuff, from that first jam session on. When they first started, Pariso and Witenberg played about five times a month, and two years in a row SRiD made the top ten of Oh My Rockness’ Hardest Working Bands list. Since their first release, Surf Rock is Dead has garnered a significant fan base while touring and playing with Shout Out Louds, The Jezabels, Day Wave, Clap Your Hands Say Yeah, and Hot Flash Heat Wave.
While SRiD’s first two EPs, 2015’s SRiD and 2017’s We Have No Friends? were a product of jam sessions, Surf Rock is Dead’s debut album is the result of a more deliberate writing structure. Existential Playboy is a balanced mix of older, jammier tracks, and newer, poppier ones, like the moody and jangly kiss-off, “Diabolik,” or the album’s lead single, the anxiously romantic “Away Message,” on which Pariso sings about new and exciting romantic feelings.
Much of Existential Playboy, like the majority of SRiD’s music, is about interpersonal relationships, living in New York, and navigating through the world during uncertain times. Existential Playboy is also about confronting mortality. In the wake of a close friend’s death, as the band was in the midst of putting this record together, Witenberg and Pariso reflected even more deeply on the themes that characterize their music. The record’s title is a nod to life’s absurdities. “Why are we doing what we do? What even matters?”
Existential Playboy’s opener “Our Time,” sets up the record’s deft meld of shadowy and effervescent sounds. “Where’s my certainty? / The fire that’s within me,” Witenberg sings, about the fears that come with chasing your passion, an ode to nights when that ardor is truly set free. “Is it really in our hands?” Pariso sings on album standout “Immaculate,” a cinematic track that marks the group’s biggest sound yet. “The one thing free from decay / This moment.” It’s a pre-apocalyptic love song, hinged on an impending doom. It sounds like the world’s ending, and you’re in love. “Solid Ties” follows, a song about wanting true friends whose last two minutes act as a break point in the record—a rhapsody, a pure jam that embodies both the record’s emotive psych rock and its pop sensibilities.
Pariso and Witenberg have harnessed their inner existential playboys, both zoning in on and encompassing dichotomies of sound and feeling. It’s how songs like the almost doomy “Miss You” can fade into the hazy, auto-tune-tinged pop song “Another World,” and that into the sunny goth love song “Watching The Dead,” and finally, the closer, a poignant and rousing acoustic tune called “Always Learning What Not To Do,” about making space and going the distance.
Their writing has grown and matured—they’ve started using more synthesizers, drying up the reverb, experimenting with more electronics—but it’s all still coming from the same space, a core self of minimalist songwriting and pure expression. “We’re the same people, but it’s changing,” Witenberg says. “The types of chords and melodies we tend to move towards are going to develop but it’s never going to change. A person makes their art because that’s them. No one else is going to be able to.”