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ATP! Album Review: By Surprise - Criteria EP

Recent printings about By Surprise stereotypically touch upon the progression of a youthful band who’s growing up, one with the ability to “pull-off” the superimposition of adorable awkwardness and dead-serious depression within vocals in a way that was overly mainstreamed by Weezer and which, frankly, isn’t much of a feat anymore.

But By Surprise aren’t trying to “pull-off” anything. "Criteria" is less calculated than some of their older tracks, but by no means less deliberate in arrangement and attitude. They aren’t forcing a quirkiness over angst in the EP’s first and title track, it just ends up spilling out as a result of keeping their composure while wishing the worst on an ex. It’s a composure that might cause you to overlook the details the first time around: perfectly-timed slides, a few shouts, somewhere in there a hook emerges.

'Wear That Crown' is way more focused than the opener, resting more on percussion than distortion. The hi-hat is slurred but on point, subdued buildups are only realized when the track falls into its muted measures, and a revving chainsaw guitar pairing dirties up the song to the end.

It gets grittiest on 'Way to be Tall', in which sharp edges of guitar are carefully positioned within smoother hooks and various chapters of arrangements. The EP reaches its golden point along the lines of this track’s chorus, “I’m waiting for you to stop crying / and start dying,” paving a path for a superpunk moment before the key change.

By Surprise fit perfectly in the Topshelf family, a genuine group of four guys whose music isn’t part of a bull shit trend to get cool people to listen to their albums. "Criteria" probably wasn’t written to prove an older band can still stay fresh. By Surprise haven’t found any middle ground between the reality of age and the musicianship of youth - they never needed to look for it.


Carolyn Vallejo

"Criteria" is out on January 15th via Topshelf Records.

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