Surly Fabricates Ruminative Bedroom Punk On 'Bad Luck Is A Good Friend'
Moving across the country can feel like a sort-of rite of passage. It usually happens as a person ships off to college or for some other pivotal, life-changing event. Sometimes it’s just a means of starting over. Regardless of the context, relocating packs up a complex parcel; it’s probably daunting, typically exciting, and usually a little nerve racking.
Fortunately, before Erin Miller of Surly found themself transplanting from Reno, NV to Chicago, they gifted us with their debut album Bad Luck Is A Good Friend.
Miller loosely calls Surly a “solo project” because sometimes they play music alone and sometimes they write and perform with friends. Their flexible blend of singer-songwriter infused bedroom punk could just as easily translate into an intimate solo gig as it would a full band live set. On that note, Bad Luck Is A Good Friend functions as a collaborative album, with several friends contributing to Miller’s concepts for tunes. With two previously released EPs: About That and If My Heart Was A Town, Surly was eager to share a full-length album with the world. Recording of the debut Bad Luck Is A Good Friend took place throughout 2017 at four separate locations.
Five songs (“Stay Happy”, “Yellow Wallpaper”, “Taylor St.”, “Parking Lot”, and “All The Time”) were tracked out by Ilya Arbatman in his and Rosie Zuckerman’s basement. Miller sang and laid down the foundations of the guitar parts, Arbatman played bass, and Zuckerman tracked out drums for these. Additionally, Dylan Greist handled lead guitar parts in this setting and additional vocals were added on “Parking Lot” and “All The Time” by Phuong Tran.
The other eight tracks on the release were recorded by Morgan Travis at The Holland Project (an artspace in Reno), at KWNK radio station, and in his mom's living room. Zuckerman aided on drums again for these, whilst Watson Meyer stepped into the picture on bass.
Considering that so many different people recorded instruments and the settings were so drastically varied, the songs that make up Bad Luck Is A Good Friend interlock themselves. The mostly lo-fi songs flow together and span several genres: from indie rock, to bedroom punk, with tinges of folk here and there.
Starting things off, the intro track, titled “Bugs and Rats,” unifies a long buildup and a punk-injected final chorus. Transforming from a soft bedroom ballad to a double timed, bass driven hook, Miller gracefully shouts out repeated lyrics “and the doctor says it goes away on its own.”
The next two songs on Bad Luck Is A Good Friend carry the most punk tendencies. “Stay Happy” is a lo-fi track, equal parts indie rock and punk. “Yellow Wallpaper” picks up the pace even further with its’ spiraling tempo and an underlying drum beat that gives a gentle nod to surf rock. Punk-fueled moments are fairly sparse on the remainder of the record, but reconvene again near the end on “Long Way Home.”
“Draft Saved” serves as the album’s emo anthem. The lyrics tell it like it is: “Nothing's holy anymore. Inhale, exhale, and try to let it go. But I’ve been consumed. I'm in love with you.” This song presents a more dramatic tone overall and tries to ditch the lo-fi qualities established earlier. The song sounds slightly more polished and Miller’s vocal inflections are subtly reminiscent of Julien Baker and Carly Comando of Slingshot Dakota.
The most unexpected song from the record is the entirely-a-capella “Parking Lot.” Which showcases how Miller and Tran’s voices harmonize together seamlessly. Such is also the case when the two collaborate on the vocal parts in “All The Time.”
The final track, “Stunted,” jumps into slightly darker sounding territory. As the guitar and bass jangle, the songs builds up an ominous cloud. As the instruments hit almost dissonant chords, Miller’s vocals get gritty and shout out: “I’ll disappear!”
Bad Luck Is A Good Friend brings forth a wide range of DIY attributes, both in the way it sounds and the way it was recorded. It’s a collection of songs that remind us that great songwriting can almost always be improved upon with help from some friends.