Fear City - Surf Curse

A punk grunge song about…finding salvation?

Surf Curse is a band that just recently got popular acclaim from their single “Freaks” amassing huge streaming numbers on Tik-Tok. While I had been a fan of their music for a while, I had co-opted a term I had heard used for AC/DC before – “Every song is the same song, but damn if it’s not a good one.” While I don’t have enough knowledge or the correct language to identify what is so consistently similar between all of their songs, I would highly encourage you to even just click through the first few seconds of their 2015 release “Buds”, and tell me that there isn’t something incredibly repetitive and similar between every single track. 

Their newest full release – Magic Hour – and the singles leading up to it had been a surprise, in that regard. They had originally relied on a more unproduced sound, and here they had worked on clearing up their soundscape and really refining their songs. They were able to do this still without falling into just a super polished indie pop sound, and keeping just loosely to their lo-fi indie rock roots. 

One last breath in Fear City
Hold me close ’cause I can’t hold on anymore
Oh, what a shame, such a pity
I can’t indulge myself in the feeling anymore
When I look in the rearview mirror, I see burning buildings
Oh, it fills me with, oh, such feelings
Oh, mercy killings

(Wait, what did he say?)
I said my hair’s just way too short to make a living
(That’s definitely not what he said)
But my hair’s never been a good measure of my happiness

I’ve lived here now for a while
But most of the times, I just get lost in the days

This all being said, it meant there was something enthralling about the second-to-last song in their album, “Fear City”. It strayed away from their new sound, and went into something completely different. It was a dark, whiny spoken-word piece that moved at a rapid pace. It opened with aggressive horns – something that hadn’t been heard on any previous albums.

This is a song I’m going into a little bit blind, since I can barely find anything about the meaning behind this song online. At first when I was writing this blog, I did it off of the idea that it was a song about escaping a religious upbringing – but now nearing the end, I have the come back and revise, because I realized it might be quite the opposite- this song may be about finding comfort and solace in religion.

Now, the song goes into a back-and-forth conversation with different voices, and back to reminiscing about being a kid. It could be just a description of witnessing the violence that the world contains as a young child and trying to parse it out and understand it. It could even be referring to a troubled childhood, and how abusive cycles tend to leave lasting damage, especially when there is a culture of “silence” within a family. 

Hey, you over there with the beautiful smile
(Who me?)
Yeah, the gapped tooth and the years of denial
Do you have something else that you’d like to say?
(Well, actually, yes)
When I was a kid I was obsessed with science
And saw so many random acts of v-v-v-violence
The method of the madness made me think I like it
The science of silence, the silence of violence
So what came first: the silence or violence?
Oh, honey, you know, it really depends on what you’re buying these days

All of my friends call me a light sleeper
Well, I guess that I just don’t dream anymore
I used to call the shots, but sometimes the shots just have to call themselves
Like making a U-turn on the belt of the highway
I can do it my way now
Like turning around to the burning building
I threw it away for the better living
One at a time and I stepped right in
The carnal knowledge embraced my skin
The smoke from the halls sank in my nose
My eyes, my soul, my shit, my grin
I screamed for my life, I screamed, I screamed, “Help me”

This part of the song described turning around on this metaphorical highway, and the aritst describes it as the shots calling themselves, like perhaps there wasn’t a choice in this matter. 

The second part it what further clued me that this might be about religion, or at least a bianary view of life where the artist divides somethings into the “good” and some into the “bad”. Later in the song he describes the concept of sin, and here he speaks of a “carnal knowledge”, which holds an implication of sinful sexual acts, and the smoke from these burning buildings enveloping him. 

He was the one who chose to go back to this burning city, and now there is a feeling that he regrets it. He describes heading away from these burning buildings as “better living”, something which he abandoned in order to come back to Fear City.

It’s here that there is an implication of religion, or at least something equivalent to it. It feels like this section implies that before he succumbed to this sin, that he was awoken, or even saved on Christmas morning. 

The case for my interpretation of this song is especially strong when tha artists describes how “the bells of Heaven” wiped away the pain from the sin he had experiences in the verse before. He ends the song by declaring that all of the bad years that are behind him are just reasons to continue to lead a “beautiful life”.

This was a song I was obsessed with for a while, and even now trying to dig into it, I don’t have a great grasp on what it could possibly mean. I feel like it’s something where I would need more context about the members of this group, which as of now just isn’t something that is out. This is yet another song that I find deeply emotional and moving – I just can’t figure out why that is! I went in thinking that I was going to write an interpretation where this song was about leaving the church, but ended up taking it in a completely different direction. So – who knows?

No one can hear you in the walls of sin
Concrete floors that I love living in
One last breath before I give in
Just one last breath before it’s Christmas morning
The bells are out and I’m in mourning
Wish I had a sign, wish I had a warning
That the bells of Heaven would come and erase
My nose, my eyes, my sin, my face
On New Year’s Eve
The years behind are just another reason to lead
All the beautiful lives we lead
When fear is all we need, what a beautiful life

What a beautiful life