The first time I heard
Boston’s New Jersey’s* By Surprise it was on their excellent split with Hightide Hotel, the standout track for me being ‘I miss you, etc.’ - a monumental jam with riffs that spiral and pirouette all over the place alongside twin vocals that squeal at just the right pitch. Along with their debut LP Mountain Smashers I’d have usually said both of these elements are the essential groundwork that occurs in a typical By Surprise track, but that isn’t quite the case any more.
"Well, I got your postcard.. It read, "I miss you, etc." - whatever the fuck that means. Then I guess "I miss you etc." too."
Topshelf Records have just released the band’s latest 7” EP, Criteria, and it’s on a whole ‘nother level to everything we’ve heard from the band before. Sure, those rollicking riffs and punchy vocals are still intact, but the overall sound just comes off as more mature and refined. The title track is a joyous post-Cap’n Jazz - yet kind of post-Algernon Cadwallader - pop punk jam that’s got a lot more heart and substance than the stuff your 15-year-old self used to listen to.
"Blindsided, but not surprised. Always knew you’d fuck me over in due time."
With ‘Wear That Crown’, imagine the most gut-wrenching American Football track turned upside-down and transformed into a catchy-as-fuck midwestern anthem. There’s almost a Nothing Feels Good-era The Promise Ring sense of melody in the air surrounding this song, and as the shortest track on the record it might well be over before you know it but you’ll have it on repeat in no time.
"I hope you miss me. I can’t play this down. I don’t wanna wear that frown for her, I just wanna wear that crown for you."
Things start getting a little grungier on ‘Way To Be Tall’, which opens not only with a gloriously crunchy guitar line but also these fantastic words: “Way to be tall / are you still talking shit?”. It gets even better, progressing into a monumental eruption of ba-ba-ba gang vocals which leave you with the overwhelming desire to start fist-pumping the air. What’s more is when the vocals soar at just before the three-minute mark… well, shit. It’s fucking goosebump-inducing.
"I’m waiting for you to stop trying, and I’m waiting for you to stop crying. Start dying."
Criteria is available on 7” wax from Topshelf Records now, but if you’d prefer your tunes digitised you can grab all three MP3s for just $3 straight from the label’s Bandcamp. You can check out the rest of By Surprise’s discography too via the same service right here.
* Sorry/Thanks Topshelf Records!