Album Review – Surprise Party

Confession time: This is my first time listening to Surprise Party. I’ve seen their name on bills since I graduated high school. I’ve heard they’ve had some pretty rowdy shows. But here I’m going to take a look at their produced sound, on their most recent release (coming this weekend!)

The Last Temptation of Chris

I’m not sure who Chris is. But this is his last temptation? And it comes loaded with a number of sounds and sensations…

Grunge-punk-psychedelic-pop. There’s a number of familiar sounds in this album, but I’ve never listened to something that manages to sound poppy and grungey to me in the same song. The album starts off with a track called Blues in F that’s sufficiently confusing and weird at first, that then moves into a more stable “hey this is actually a song” progression. The guitar tones sound a bit alternative to start, but picks up a bunch of distortion and guts once the keys join in. This keys sound, I feel like I know the exact keyboard they’re using. If you listen to Catamounts, it’ll be very familiar. They seems to stick to a set rhythm for the whole song, following a climbing melodic progression with an almost classic dude-sing/yelling-in-a-basement vocal sound. In my first three listens, I haven’t really heard all the lyrics. But I noticed they snuck a hint of autotune in here, almost in a comedic way. Makes me laugh, smile, think “what the fuck you guys?”.

Okay confession #2. Though I don’t know who’s all in the band, I’m familiar with one of the musicians. And I feel I can hear his psychedelic influence in here, in places amongst the oddly bright melodies and heavy, drudging guitar tones.

The next song is called Gloom. Starts off with some noise, then moves into something a bit quieter but maybe weirder? I find the name really suits this song, because the vocals offer a pretty eerie feeling. Cheshire Cat sort of eerie, like where’d you come from and why you smiling so much? I get this eerie sense throughout the whole album, and I think it’s mostly because of the vocalist. Some of the guitar tones are very droning too, like typical grunge in my mind (think Seattle grunge, pre-popular Pearl Jam and before Badmotorfinger came out).

Overall they have a consistent rotation in most of their songs. A regular rhythm. The keys sort of circle along with the guitar, shaping a less dark-and-heavy and more almost carnival-weird-happy feel around really consistent and standard rhythm section. Sometimes you get the guitar chugging along on it’s own for a bit, and to me, really says grunge. That, plus the shape of the rhythm, the overall speed and where it touches down before picking up again, just sounds so classic energetic, happy-mad teenager, like someone who’s usually just a shit disturber who’s just found out he’s got a 12-pack at home and his favourite band plays tonight.

As the album progresses, you get more and more psychedelic and pop feelings mixing in. The consistent guitar riffs and circling becomes a great landscape for bright shifts in keys and other vocal or melodic flourishes that really stick out. In a good way, like you can hear there’s a lot of layers to each song, and each brings a bit of a different overall tone.

I personally enjoy as the album gets along, into the end of track 5 (called Hex) where they start breaking things down. You get a solid stretched out guitar solo and heavy riffing, without that bright sound of the keys, that pulls my gut and 2ft long hair up and down along with each beat. It’s nice to hear the guitar break free of it’s riffing too, into some real classic structure soloing.

The mix between songs feels deliberate in places. Like moving from Hex into The Hell of No Respite, there’s a slight break, but the breakdown and final distortions of Hex set up nicely for the trippy sounds and psychedelic feelings of the intro that follows. I sort of expect less space between songs, probably because I’m such a Mahogany Frog fan, and they move seamlessly between tracks, but I think the gaps here help. They add distinction between songs.

Things stay pretty consistent in heaviness and brightness, tones and rhythms throughout the whole album. Occasionally you get some really weird sounds and psychedelic noises coming through. These might be my favourite parts, because they recall an almost industrial psychedelic feel throughtout each song, even when it’s not getting real fucking weird. Considering each song is in 4/4, it’s awful nice to have some weird shit breaking it up sometimes. I personally really like weird shit too though.

Things slow down a bit near the end. It almost gets soft? But not really soft. Just a bit gentler than before, right. And the song titles change from tracks like “The Hunter,” “Gloom,” “Wrap your Fears in Demons” (great advice by the way), and “Hex” to “Samvartasthayikalpa”, which at first glance reads like a Sanskrit term, and after Googling, does indeed seem to be a Sanskrit term for one of the worlds involved in creation? And the final song, named “Angel’s Breath,” which offers a bit of a sweet relief from the heavy tones of most of the album in the intro, but then flips back to some grunginess between choruses.

Overall I’m left picturing a weird, colourful and energetic late-night outdoor boardwalk.

They’re releasing this baby this coming weekend. Saturday night. The Handsome Daughter. Check it out.

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