REVIEW: Sur Back - Kitsch

Laura Kerry

Occam’s Razor is a scientific principle that warns against unnecessary complications. If you have multiple competing theories, opt for the one with the fewest assumptions. Simplicity is best.

Sur Back’s song of the same title is the simplest on her debut EP, Kitsch. Opening with sputtering, reverb-heavy percussion and quiet synth, it begins the album in a sparse, reflective tone. When the vocals enter, though, they present a different picture. Resembling St. Vincent, the voice twists and turns, refusing to conform to expectations. Though the song floats along languidly, Sur Back’s voice doesn’t rest, and following her lead, the instrumentals start to build along with it, multiplying in volume and complexity. The expansive conclusion shatters all notions of simplicity.

Like the opening song, nothing seems truly simple for Caroline Sans, the woman behind Sur Back, who is a literature major hailing from Jupiter, Florida. In an interview from a couple years ago, she revealed that she spent a year researching her moniker and almost as long thinking about the titles of some of her songs, proving that the best things take time and effort. Sans composes synth pop whose bright, dreamy electronics and danceable beat loops are easily digestible, but that also draws from the measured eccentricities of art and baroque pop. The artist says she “[fell] out of hate with pop,” and it comes as no surprise that she had to work her way towards the easy payoffs of the genre in which she has ended up.

At its surface, most of Kitsch sparkles with accessible satisfaction, but it also hints at the richer rewards buried in deeper layers. Despite the lucidity of Sans’ voice in the four-song EP, the lyrics are often soft and hazy, but still hint at the stories that comprise the heart of it. When the words resolve into focus, they do so with captivating force: “My mind is like a sovereign staircase / That the help and the crown are made to share,” she sings in “Pastel,” and as the deep, parched percussion drops out in “Trophy Daughter,” she utters, strikingly, “I don’t want your consolation prize.” Trying to decipher all of the narratives feels like trying to make sense of each blurry star in the night sky; when one achieves clarity, it only sheds light on the untouchable vastness of the rest.

Through the languorous swell of “Occam’s Razor,” the grinding, fuzzed-out guitars of “Trophy Daughter,” the deep pulsing dance beat and aching escalation of strings in “Pastel,” and the elusive stops and starts of “Kitsch,” the artist shows that simplicity is not always best. Though just four songs, Sur Back’s sumptuous and intelligent debut favors multiplication—of instruments, time signatures, voices, and finally, the many delights to take away from it and the number of listens it takes to find them all.