When we talk about surf pop, we talk about music that conjures images of the beach at dusk, long afternoons slicing waves, and late nights huddled around a bonfire. For guitarist Zach Stephenson and drummer Billy Fleming, these aren’t some abstract Californian ideals, but simply nostalgia for their own childhood growing up together in the small Australian coastal town of Windang.
As Hockey Dad, named for a fleeting Simpsons reference, they’ve captured their own adolescence in wistful, low-key fashion. Their debut album, Boronia, takes its name from the street where Stephenson and Fleming lived a few houses apart from one another, and the 11 tracks within are a tide of charmingly messy guitar hooks and remembrances of endless summers past.
On “Dylan’s Place”, Stephenson sings of surfing. “Ocean glides beneath my board/ Different colors spill on top/ Everything just seems so small/ I don’t need to think at all,” he trills. “Jump the Gun” is a kegger set to music, sunny guitars guiding a narrative of a party that refuses to end. “Somewhere there’s summer/ Adventure to be had,” Stephenson proclaims, and riding the high of a subtly fantastic and jangly hook, its hard not to take him at his word.
We have a tendency to value the art that hits us the hardest. It’s why movies about tragedies take a short path to Academy Award glory, and why albums about “big things” and songs with moody, profound textures tend to populate year-end “Best Of” lists. Hockey Dad are not interested in changing your life, but they’re more than happy to make it better for 40 minutes of blissful fuzz.
Album closer “Grange” perfectly illustrates this, an instrumental ode to the good life that sounds like the guys from Explosions in the Sky finally took a moment off to grab some bong rips and just chill. There’s a time for grand, instrumental post-rock, and when you need it few things are better, but there’s also a time for the music of bands like Hockey Dad and their short doses of summer euphoria.
Not every song on Boronia is an ode to the beach rat life. “Honey Bunny” is a perfectly pleasant little love song, and “Raygun” opts for distortion and hectic drums from Fleming to paint the picture of a dream girl that, in a heartbreaking twist, ultimately shoots down her suitor, with a ray gun no less. On “Laura”, a domineering love interest has Stephenson in his grasp. “She’s got a sugar-coated tongue/ She’s not fooling anyone,” he sings, before a honeyed but resigned chorus about giving in to her charms.
Sugar is an apt theme for Hockey Dad. The songs on Boronia are sweet, both in message and sound, a musical snack shack on the outskirts of the sand. Never mawkish, the vibe here is pure joy, a feat to be sure in a time where surf pop has become the de facto descriptor for a genre of music that opts for pleasure over pain. Listening to Boronia doesn’t elevate surf pop as much as it defines what the genre can and should be. These are tall-can songs, cuts for open window driving down the highway, music that never tries to be anything more than two guys providing the soundtrack to their own small-town story.
The penultimate “Two Forever” is in many ways a testament to Stephenson and Fleming’s friendship. What could’ve been a potent love song is instead the story of two buds who have found each other. “You’ll always be a friend of mine/ At least for one more lifetime,” Stephenson sings. Here’s hoping that vision comes true.
Essential Tracks: “Jump the Gun”, “Two Forever”, and “Laura”