In the endless revivals of 70’s art rock, it’s often forgotten that amidst the subversion, provocation, and politics, the music was also actually fun. But West Philly rock trio Bike Crash—whose bandcamp bio accurately places them in the lineage of “Devo, dashes of early Deerhoof, Sleater Kinney, B-52’s and more”—have avoided the pitfalls of artsy over-affectation to deliver an exhilarating new EP, Surprise!, that supplants the lightning-in-a-bottle energy of their influences into a picaresque journey through modern Philadelphia.
In many ways, it’s Bike Crash’s sincere love for their city that lends Surprise! its frantically beating heart. Theirs is a humanistic kind of love; expressed equally through homage (the album art pays tribute to Backstabbers by Philly soul icons the O’Jays) and through scathing lyrical critiques against the gentrifiers, corporations, and career politicians waging struggle against Philadelphia’s common people. As political songwriters, Bike Crash know exactly who their enemies are and are unafraid to name them directly. Where many artists opt for curated apathy or vague sloganeering, Bike Crash’s bold and lucid politics stand out.
But with all the talk of serious politics, where is the supposed fun? It’s in the musical arrangements—fragments of cubist surf rock that shuffle, groove, and stomp with joyful noise. The songs on Surprise! feel dynamic and spontaneous; as likely to stop abruptly as they are to explode. On “I Discovered South Philly”, tempo shifts and vocal trade-offs create a structure as varied and kinetic as a train ride. Set against this musical backdrop, the trio share vocal duties to shout, speak, and serenade in a complex interplay. Personality oozes from the vocals, making the band’s surreal wordplay all the more charming. The adrenaline flows nonstop from start to finish, and though the EP is brief, the sheer energy of the music is likely to leave a listener needing a break before cueing the album up again to catch lyrical gems they were head-banging too hard to hear.
You can stream Surprise below.