The first time I caught By Surprise, it was at the North Star Bar in 2007 for one of those ill-programmed, poorly-attended shows that are as lonely and demoralizing for the audience as they are for the artist. My presence was very much at the urging of guitarist Rob Wilcox, who was at the time my co-DJ at Y-Rock, and I was curious to see what dude’s band could do. I definitely picked up what it was throwing down: digable nods to the late-’90s/early-’00s emo underground (the references I made in my Philly Phile last week). But something—blame the night, blame the lineup—didn’t seem quite there. Certainly not like the By Surprise I saw perform with a renewed energy two years later at The Blockley—and certainly not like the By Surprise that stormed our studio last week armed with a setlist of new songs, a lot of caffineation, some vegan pizza, and the rock-and-roll willingness to slam out their stuff, screw the small mistakes, and leave a pint of blood on the studio floor. (Note to XPN engineering: no blood was actually left on the studio floor and I don’t know what those stains are.)
Guest engineer Maddie Lesperance mixed the feisty Douglas Adams ref-ing “So Long And Thanks For All The Shark Jaws” and the heartbreaking “Direct Loans” while I snapped photos of the band in action. I mixed the rest (particularly loved the guitar interplay on “$600 Exorcism”) and came to a realization: so many groups hit hard and burn out fast. By Surprise has, over time, worked its way up to this point: having such an impactful presence in performance; playing with the confidence that comes with doing what you love because you love it; releasing a full-length album that’s as sonically rich and enjoyable as Mountain Smashers. Yesterday, Wilcox made a similar “slow and steady” observation in a heartfelt post on his Tumblr: “When your only desire is to make something as simple as ‘an album’ with your buddies, and hope someone gives a damn, the end result is far more rewarding. We’ve always gone about things at our own pace, and hoped that someone along the way would take a moment to enjoy it for its simplicity.” Mountain Smashers came out yesterday, the session tracks are below. I enjoy them and hope you do too.