Surrogate - Popular Mechanics
Record Label: Tooth And Nail Records
Release Date: July 14th, 2009
On the second full-length album for what is sure to go down as one of the most underrated bands to ever grace Tooth and Nail's roster, Surrogate open their folk-laden knapsacks of diversity wide and let loose. The result? Quite possibly T&N's release of the year, and there's not a breakdown or pop-punk guitars to be found. The album, titled Popular Mechanics, sounds like a logical progression from debut Love Is For The Rich, but more importantly, it sounds oh so good.
There's a lot of ear candy to be found on here. "Cynicism" opens with plucked strings but climbs upward in melody and becomes a beautiful alternative tune by the chorus. "Love Is for T=the Rich" and "Whiskey (Vomiting Words)" both draw from Neutral Milk Hotel in instrumentation, with the former finding inspiration in horns and the latter learning from NMH-style strumming. "State of Jefferson" is nearly pop-rock in approach, focusing on what seems like the negatives of the oft-praised state of California in its opening lines: "I like the way California smells / Before a natural disaster / You can always tell when a fire's coming." Yet perhaps the most interesting is the dainty "Water Tower," a soft folk song laid over a Scott Joplin-esque piano line. Suprisingly, the combination just manages to work, creating the most curious and captivating number on the disc.
Nevertheless, it's also a good thing Surrogate hasn't forgotten their roots; the pure folk ditties are still here. "Suprise" has the typical folk wit firing at full power right from the start. "Suprise, suprise / Don't stay too late, don't make mistakes / You can take what you want as long as it isn't mine," warns the band with smart-aleck sarcasm over calm guitars. "Popular Mechanics" has the vocal melodies getting all sweet and pretty, and "The Devil Gets What He Wants (Sometimes)" is a beautiful reinterpreation of Sufjan Stevens. Sometimes, nothing beats the simplicity of a competent voice and some lethargic guitars.
So when are Surrogate at their best? I mean, there's even a track where they get fast and loud ("A Constitution"), so which is the real Surrogate? Popular Mechanics seems to say that the band is all three: diverse, stripped-down and noisy, because despite the seemingly ADD record the album looks like on paper, it still flows like a complete album. I can't recall a single time when I was frusturated at an alleged lack of cohesiveness; every branch into new territory is done in good taste and does nothing but boost the album's lasting value. Let's face it, there's a lot here to pick out and enjoy.
As for Tooth and Nail, one of the biggest blunders they made this year is not properly promoting this. There are thousands of potential fans with ears waiting to be graced by this success. The mistake is to ignore those ears. But really, when all is said and done, Surrogate deserves all the attention they can get. Popular Mechanics is a quiet triumph.