By Surprise – Mountain Smashers

By Surprise - Mountain Smashers coverThere’s something enduringly whimsical about Mountain Smashers, the first album from New Jersey quartet By Surprise. Possibly it’s the recurrent references to Douglas Adam, something which as an Englishman I’m most likely genetically predisposed to find endearing. Or perhaps it’s the laid-back literary air of the album; as well as Doug Adams there are overt references to Thoreau and Kerouac. Then again, it might just be the record’s laid-back sense of playfulness; relaxed rather than too cool for school. It’s more too school for cool, to be honest.

Opening with the driving yet twinkling guitars of ‘Books by Thoreau’ – hey, I did say the references were overt – the sound holds back from aggression despite its gargantuan size and stomp: everything is warm, rich and gentle. ‘Realometer’ introduces more playfulness as dual noodling guitars trade off each other, as do the different styles of delivery of the band’s two chief vocalists. “Time is a river I go fishing in,” sings one; hey, I did say the record was laid-back.

And I also described it as whimsical, as in ‘Mostly Harmless’: it’s another more driving tune, with a pounding sense of rhythm that draws back for the verses and “I want to live on an island / I want to live a simple life / For the simple island people / I’ll make them sandwiches.” Nonsensical, sure, but fun (and, possibly, an ironic dig at British colonialism, but that might be just a bit too much of a reach on my part).

There are plenty more poppy treats scattered throughout Mountain Smashers, from the punnily-titled ‘Fountain Splashers’, a mellow and delicate song with rich-sounding ambient synth knitting it together, or ‘Daggermouth is Playing at my House’ – probably the most unobtuse song present, an initially fairly minimal song that grows and builds as it tells a simple story of a favourite band playing and staying at the singer’s house. There are a few hooks, lyrical moments and rhythmic refrains that will live on in your memory, but the album is really best enjoyed in the moment. Kick back, disengage from anything stressful, relax and have some fun.

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(P.S. this was mastered by Bob Weston of Shellac, which is not only pretty cool but may also explain the powerful volume of this record, as well as its razor-sharp clarity.)

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