The Yetis // Little Surfer Girl
Recommended Track: Warm California
Sometimes I think California exists more truly in the minds of non-Californians than anywhere else. After all, has there ever been a place more primed for escapist projection than the Golden State? California is both a State and a state of being associated with idealism and warmth, the name conjuring up gauzy visions of endless summers and beautiful people who never age frolicking on a beach while framed by palm trees gently waving in the breeze. These images are found in all aspects of culture but especially in pop music where the intrepid listener can locate California as just about anything: as dream, as wasteland, as destiny, as nightmare, über alles, etc. But when you think you’ve heard every permutation of California Dreamin’ there could possibly be, here come The Yetis with yet another variation on the theme: California as schtick.
The Yetis are a very good Allentown, Pennsylvania based band who, on their debut single, have apparently made the conscious decision to dress their music up in California duds because…why exactly? One hates to assume it’s for sheer marketability but therein lies the issue: from start to finish the music is so married to every crystalline Californian cliche it’s difficult to shake the icky feeling that we have here is gimmickry at best and shameless opportunism at worst.
It’s not that a non-Californian band can’t sing about California. If that were the case, half the entire California canon would be wiped out, and one can hardly blame the Yetis for choosing to locate their musical identity 3,000 miles from their home–they’re neither the first nor the last band to do so. Similarly it’s not that the music itself is bad. Both “Little Surfer Girl” and “Warm California” are well-recorded and competent jangle pop tunes with fun melodic twists that reveal the band’s love and respect for the records that inspired them. Think the Shins gone surfing and you’re mostly there, although perhaps Ireland’s California dreamers The Thrills are the better comparison here.
And yet despite lovely melodies, trite lyrics with copious wistful references to surfing, cold weather, California, and snow are nauseating in their banality (“I’m tired of the snow outside…just take me to warm California tonight”) and make the Yetis sound like they’re gunning to be in the background of some teen exploitation show. Perhaps the Yetis believe every word they sing, but the overall impression is one of a band latching onto the most superficial and exploitable aspects of the Californian experience in lieu of creating an actual identity. That their bio reveals the band’s genesis playing Strokes and Arctic Monkeys covers before switching to California-based sounds doesn’t help their case much either.
Another troublesome thing: “Little Surfer Girl”. Yo, PA dudes, we got rules around here and one of them is that you’re not allowed to be a surf-ish band taking obvious musical cues from the Beach Boys and also name your tune “Little Surfer Girl.” That is a rock ’n roll faux pas. If you thought “Warm California” was packed with enough Californian platitudes to fuel the world’s 8th largest economy, this song hammers the point home even harder. “Surfing not’s the same out in the snow,” the band proclaim. Ok, you know, we get it. Pennsylvania is cold. You can’t surf there. You want to move to California. We got it back in 1961 and we get it in 2014. The message hasn’t changed that much.
There’s potential enough in Little Surfer Girl for the Yetis to become a banging guitar pop group and I hope they do, but there’s just no getting away from the feeling that this entire single is more a bid for acceptance than a statement of intent.