South Florida Native Sur Back Impresses With Debut Album
Photo by Lydo Le
Like other urbanized bastions of creative inspiration, the South Florida landscape alternates between mind-numbingly dull and breathtakingly stunning. As the monotonous stretch of suburban sprawl dominates so much of South Florida living, people are all too quick to forget about the quiet wonders and opportunities that are also scattered about. Whether admiring the stars from the comfort of the beach or gazing upon Miami's skyline from a high-rise, it is possible to be reminded occasionally of the marvels that our slice of the Sunshine State offers.
In several respects, this contrast between the natural and the manmade puts South Florida in good company. Though many are quick to dismiss any comparisons between South Florida and Los Angeles or New York City, Jupiter-raised Sur Back isn't so eager to do the same.
"People think of New York and Los Angeles as polar opposites, but being from South Florida, I think of it more as a three-point spectrum," she says, shrewdly making note of our potent mix of California beach culture, New York ambitions, and suburban lifestyles. "I think it's cool to have a different perspective rather than just being another Brooklyn-based artist."
Having just released her first full-length effort, Kitsch, this month, the 22-year-old Sur Back has undergone something of an artistic odyssey up to this point. Born in Palm Beach Gardens, Caroline Sans did not always harbor ambitions of being a musician; her creative spirit initially blossomed as a ballerina. But growing older, Sans sought to hone her creative, literal voice.
"I think it was [having] more control and agency onstage," she says of the shift. "Whereas in dance I was used to being told where to go... singing, and especially writing songs... there's a lot more freedom to it. It's kind of rooted in catharsis, too — just being able to work out things and have a voice while doing it."
Since her fledgling releases in 2014, Sur Back — who is an entirely self-taught musician — has garnered attention and acclaim for her voice, drawing comparisons to artists such as St. Vincent and Caroline Polachek. Though somewhat reductive, these parallels aren't entirely unwarranted. Like that of both artists, Sur Back's music is composed across a grand multi-instrumental canvas — self-described as "breakbeat baroque pop meets New Wave chanson and converses in fuzz guitar" — with lyrics that would be uncomfortably revealing if they weren't wrapped up in enigmatic literary references. This can be observed most readily in her inaugural release, 2014's "Jane Eyre." Accompanied by a music video that alternates between shots of the expansive Atlantic Ocean and the claustrophobia of many a suburban South Florida bedroom, "Jane Eyre" captures Sans' acute understanding of both her unique artistic background and her capacity for impactful compositions.
Although separated by two years of heightened expectations and artistic growth, Kitsch fulfills Sur Back's initial promise on "Jane Eyre" with a maturity — both in songwriting and sound — that belies her sparse discography. Even on an EP, she demonstrates a control over pacing and progression that eludes many veteran musicians.
"I know a big trend right now is being minimalistic, and I have no interest in doing that... I want there to be so many parts that you can't keep up with it," she says of her bold production style. "I want everything to sound really full and like a ballet."
Looking ahead, Sur Back is eager to reconcile her Floridian mindset with the demands of being a recording artist, even if it means channeling the state's omnipresent and oppressive humidity. "I think it's important — if you apply it in the right way — to take that heat," she notes. "Even though it's climate, it's also internal in a way, and you use that to motivate you. It's almost like you're threatening yourself: If I don't work hard and achieve things, then I'm just going to be stuck."