On December 8th, 2017 Surprise Party released “Dull”, their newest full-length, which features 11 tracks of hooky, jangly, and fuzzy fun, and as a listener/reviewer, I will boldly claim this album does not live up to its name…
Surprise Party is a three-piece with impeccable chemistry. Guitarist Robbie Perry, bassist Jeff Silva, and drummer Lee Martin are the key players on the album. Perry’s jangly rock riffs are perfectly accompanied by Silva’s walking pop basslines. Martin’s drumming is, at times, dynamic and fill-heavy, but is consistent and provides a rocking back-beat.
While Perry sings most of the lead vocals, Silva and Martin each sing lead on two tracks (Silva on “Crabs” and “Nine” and Martin on “Skinny People” and “Drifting”). Each member’s vocal style is unique and distinct. Martin reminds me of a mix between Hutch Harris (The Thermals) and Josh Darnielle (Mountain Goats). Silva has a slightly raspier and higher pitched voice that somehow reminds me of Jack White. Perry probably has the most range as a vocalist. While Martin and Silva have a more contemporary style to their singing, Perry’s voice has a timeless quality to it. I can picture him singing duets with the likes of Otis Redding, as well as singing lead vocals for Arcade Fire.
It’s not just Perry’s vocals that I would say has a “timeless” quality, but also the songwriting in general as it draws upon decades of influence. The music geek in me had a blast picking out all the genres and sub-genres, which included elements of 60’s power pop, 70’s pub rock, 80’s post-punk, and 90’s alt-rock. I’m sure other listeners could list 5 or 6 other sub-genres Surprise Party could fit into. What’s clear is that the trio’s musical tastes certainly are not limited, and that they borrow from a multitude of influences. What they deserve a lot of credit for is their ability to fuse those influences into a relatively consistent sound they can claim for their own. The guitars are sometimes jangly, and sometimes noisy. The basslines sometimes walk and sometimes stomp. The drums are sometimes steady and sometimes frantic. The vocals are sometimes soothing and sometimes scratchy. But all in all, it sounds like Surprise Party (which is a good thing, in case I didn’t make that clear), and the album does not contain a single “dull” moment (sorry). – Dave Boz