Friday, May 27, 2011

Album Review: By Surprise - Mountain Smashers

In a different, better world, By Surprise replaces the absurdly popular examples of pop-rock "fun" bands, is released in my final summer before college, and all the girls I'll ever meet fawn over Mountain Smashers like it is this reality's latest All Time Low record. Unfortunately for me and By Surprise, I am already a year deep in higher educational debt and Mountain Smashers' unique collection of silly, intimate, and summery compositions won't get the attention that a truly adolescent record like itself should. I don't mean to lead readers in the wrong direction by using terms like pop-rock and adolescent; Mountain Smashers' love for never taking itself too seriously and its occasional spots of emotional honesty make the record feel as accessible as it is fun, and the band is far too focused on guitar noise, drum racket, and a large heft of indie-rock influences to be confused with the majority of pop-rock fluff that is focused on a cleaner sound. By Surprise's Mountain Smashers isn't polished at every corner, it doesn't sport pristine vocals, and it certainly never becomes a repetitious package of catchy choruses. It is however, a record of insecurity, summer joy, and the album that cements By Surprise as an excellent part of the Topshelf Records family.

For a band that looks up to its peers almost too closely (By Surprise is named after a Up Up Down Down Left Right Left Right B A Start song), it's to almost no surprise that instrumentally the album has momentum, it painfully lacks any peak or high point; the album stays consistently familiar in its instrumental delivery. The thick bass and playful guitar of "So Long And Thanks For All The Shark Jaws" feels like an accelerated track off of Look Mexico's This is Animal Music, and the entire hometown-heroes vibe of the track's personality feels inspired by Into It. Over It. There are certainly worse things to be compared to and inspired by, and whether By Surprise has been looking at their inspirations too closely or not remains irrelevant given how damn weird their lyrical tendencies tend to be in comparison to their peers.

Their words not only set them apart, they tend to put the band on display as the lyrical oddities appear like a random blooper reel in the middle of a heartfelt movie. "Mostly Harmless" begins as the title implies, even giving out one of the album's most personal lines to begin with, "I'll never be/ I'll never be/ I'll never be like the people who inspire me," only for the band to start proclaiming a line I'll remember for the rest of this year, "artichokes and lettuce/ corn on the cob and roses;" singing it in a mindless drone that eventually cracked my face into a smile at the band's strange lyrical choice. The song, despite--or perhaps in spite of--the odd lyrics, is a symbol of the band's unique choices on the record and what makes the album feel so successful it what it does. Sure, having a song called "Daggermouth Is Playing At My House" and having it completely devoted to talking about Daggermouth playing a house show is a little odd, but it feels damn good to know there's a band that can find the time and personality to do so.

Mountain Smashers is in many ways the kid I wished I could be in high school: awkwardly funny enough to keep those critical of him from taking him too seriously, and genuine enough in his approach to make it clear he was worth listening to. I may be still be the quiet critic (read: kid) keeping to himself in his room, but Mountain Smashers is the cheery friend with hit-or-miss jokes, intent on making the most of the upcoming joy and growth summer has to offer.

Buy it here.

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