Your new addiction.
The more you work in a particular field, the more contacts and relationships you're bound to make along the way. With writing about countless bands, releases, and shows over the years, I’ve made a lot of contacts, from promoters, labels, bands, managers, to everyone in between. One such contact that I made earlier this year was with High Road Publicity, a PR company from the US.
The first release they sent me for review was the mediocre It Lies Within album, ‘Paramount'. It was safe to say that things were not off to a good start. However, that was soon followed up by High Road sending me what I've since found to be one of my most cherished releases of 2016 – All Human’s ‘Teenagers, You Don’t Have To Die’. It’s a grand and truly weird release, and I’ve since come to learn that HRP work with all kinds of bands, spanning many different genres. More recently as of a couple weeks ago, I found awaiting me in my inbox was a copy of Sunndrug's new release, ‘Exit Wounds’.
Suffice to say, I am now mentally flagellating myself on the daily for not discovering this band and their exceptional record sooner. If you have to ask why that is, then let me spell it out for you: I. Fucking. Love. This. Record. And who says that objectivity is dead these days!?
Now, if you're looking for cheery, upbeat rock songs or some basic tunes to put on as background music, then much like George Lucas trying to find his dignity after The Force Awakens, you'd best look elsewhere, son. Sunndrug’s sound is a mixture of dark synths and glitchy electronics a la Nine Inch Nails and The Black Queen, all the while maintaining a strong foothold in a blues-tinged alternative rock territory.
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As such, there's a big sonic jump between the low-key opener ‘White Ladders’, the dark, anti-pop ripper of 'Psy-Vamp' and the ominous, percussive ‘Blackout’ when compared to the straightforward rock approach of ‘Denial‘ and the dynamic, surging dissonance of ‘Halo'. But whichever hand the band puts down, it's consistently structured and delivered well. Especially when the band so naturally and effortlessly morphs these sounds together on tracks like album standout 'Stilts' (seriously, what a fucking song), the groovy 'Big Data' and the album's pumping swan song 'Young Blood'. In fact, the only gripe with the album and its tracks are the two brief and easily forgettable interludes - 'Echolalia' and the title track.
Even so, the production behind 'Exit Wounds' is another cause for praise as it's a strong example of the mix being shaped to fit the songs, instead of the other way around. The bass is so satisfyingly warm here and ambiance and spatiality of the guitars and the vocals are wondrous. Oh, and in the case of the vocals, there's a radio-like filter applied to most of Jimmy Reeves' vocal tracks, and while this helps them remain gritty, they gel so well with the dark sonics and melancholic timbres of these songs. This touch to the vocals also works to flesh out the rather dark lyrics. But while ‘Exit Wounds’ isn’t necessarily a concept record, it's a tale of someone piecing him or herself back together emotionally and mentally after a messy divorce. Lyrically, it’s songs like 'Denial' and ‘White Ladders‘ that represent this best but musically, it's the lushness of 'Shining and the brooding darkness of ‘Group Therapy’ that captures this...personalized despair so well. Like many great releases, it’s a record that allows you, the listener, to take away whatever you want from it. Well...within reason, of course. I wouldn't say that this record is a glowing endorsement of the NRA and gun violence, for instance.
Also, to further add to the list of reasons as to why I love this record, Sunndrug's sense of groove, the vocal deliveries, and the guitar riffs and melodies tend to carry a strong Deftones influence at times. Intentional or not, I'm not sure, but a song like 'Big Data' drives this comparison home and it all feels natural as opposed to just mere imitation and shoe-horned in influence.
Now, as a drummer, I usually hone in on the drums with everything I listen to and write about. I just can't help it. It'd be like telling Buzzfeed to not make list articles; that shit just ain't gonna stick!
As such, on this album the drum tone is impeccable and the performance behind them, courtesy of Chris Raines (former Spitfire/Norma Jean drummer) is terrific. They're tight and groovy and while relatively simple, they're wonderfully reflective of the song’s individual moods and vibes. They also never take the limelight nor do they ever fade from the listener's mind. Another thing about the percussion on this record is that the drums are either electronically programmed, acoustic, or a blend of the two. Whichever the case may be, either format fits these songs so well and you can tell that the band actually gave a shit about these compositions, the ebb and flow of the album's soundscape, and their overall sound.
And that really is the difference here; there was time, love, and actual thought and emotion poured into this record. Even if it takes a couple listens for you to see that or for you to "get it", 'Exit Wounds' will burrow deep inside your soul and stay there.
Sunndrug are an interesting beast. What you may think 'Exit Wounds' lacks in sonic depth and instrumental layers are made up for by lyrical and thematical melancholy, minimal but exquisite instrumentation and a superbly tight production and mix that encases wonderfully so. Their blend of electronic and natural elements and tone in their sound is indeed simple but also exceptional in the delivery and its nuance. Sure, Sunndrug aren't reinventing any musical wheels here, but they really don't need to with such a fantastic album on their hands.
'Exit Wounds is out October 30th via Mind Over Matter Records and it's brilliant.