By Surprise: Criteria
Let’s face it. We all yearn for the halcyon days of the early ‘90s: flannel shirts, do-it-yourself attitudes, and lo-fi college radio stations (disregard the fact that I’m way too young to look back on those times with such introspection). I’m talking about the time when Stephen Malmkus was on his way to becoming a god.
Well, South Jersey’s By Surprise has heard our collective longing, and they answered us in the form of a three-song 7″ they dropped back in January of 2012. Criteria is a record permeated with the laid-back rock riffs and drifting power chords that made ’90s alt-rock so lastingly powerful. The album opens with fluctuating feedback and a brashness one would be hard pressed to find in most of the fad-based indie music out now. Bitter lyrics fit in well atop the raw music, with Pat Garland’s apathetic vocals only enhancing the quality. The closing track, “Way To Be Tall,” encapsulates this – “I’m waiting for you to stop crying, and start dying” – with a sound eerily reminiscent of Pavement. This three-song smattering may be a direct descendant of the ‘90s. Hell, it could even be a lost Yo La Tengo EP. And it’s damn honest, and in the electro-pop terrain that is today’s alternative music scene, By Surprise’s throwback to slacker rock is more than a relief.