About a year ago, Low Fat Getting High insisted on releasing the perfect summer album just in time for winter, and in my review I chewed them the heck out for it. Well, now it’s a year later, and with their debut full-length, French heavy psych quartet Sunder has decided to do the same exact thing. Another LP of bright, sunny fuzz rock, and another impending 4 months of bitter cold and filthy slush. Sigh.
HOWEVER this is not to say that I’m wholly disappointed with this album. In fact, I’m very happy about it! And I’m happy about it because, seasonal timing aside, it is that very brightness contained in this album which makes it refreshing and satisfying. Doubtless, as Sunder becomes more and more active as a touring band, they’ll inevitably be lumped in with the Uncle Acids, and the Electric Citizens, and the Rubies the Hatchet, and that’s great because those are all great bands who are doing great things for themselves these days. Yet there’s something quite different about the approach and aesthetics of Sunder which, hopefully, will distinguish them. In short, this distinction lies in the fact that this album feels like a good trip. Many of these other heavy psych forerunners – most pertinently Uncle Acid – ooze a kind of dark paranoia. They lead you down a rabbit hole, but you should be at least a little scared to follow, and if they had their way it would be some confused, b-movie blood ritual waiting for you at the end. But not Sunder. They want you to have a good time, and feel the sun on your face. Sure, their sound is hazy, and their lyrics suggest a disorienting blur between ecstasy and danger. But it’s not the danger of mutilation and torment; it’s the danger of a sultry vixen, or an overzealous bong rip. And in the end, it’s still the ecstasy that seems to come out on top.
Sonically and thematically, opening cut “Deadly Flower” says it all. Creepy organ opens and we wonder, what is this strange place? Then in come fuzz-drenched guitars and driving rhythm – ohh, it’s some dark orchard of ROCK! And then BOOM vocals land on a huuuge major third, and what you thought was a foreboding thicket is actually a big, sunny field. The roses may be thorny, but the grass is green. You follow not because you have no choice, but because you want to; yours is a youthful exuberance, and the promise of discovery outweighs the omens of the unfamiliar. As we’ve come to expect in heavy psych rock, there is a fine line, an inability to differentiate between what is poison and what is pleasure, what are cosmic orgasms and what are deadly stings, but at all points the Sunder sound is imbued with a wonderful optimism which replaces fearful uncertainty with confident affirmation.
In “Cursed Wolf”, a great pick for the album’s leadoff single, the aesthetic is sustained, and we see to an even greater extent what a huge role is played by the band’s close attention to vocals. These are looong syllables, deeply and constantly enriched by harmony and reverb, and constituting preeminently the hues with which Sunder colors their landscape of dreamy, sunny psychedelia. Hell, some well-placed tambourine doesn’t hurt either! Nor do the little 9/8 tricks in the pre-chorus! Or the nice little solo/jam spot in the middle of the song! All in all, a great summation of Sunder’s particular skill set; there’s a lot that they can do in a 4-minute window, but they never feel like they’re going overboard, and ever in the forefront is the predominance of a convincing and sustained artistic cohesion. One of sunny confusion, if you haven’t picked up on that yet.
Sure, there are darker moments on this album, and they’re faithfully executed. “Daughter of the Snows” is actually a personal favorite, and features ominous vocal melodies over a rollicking 12/8 in a very Uncle Acid kind of way (sorry if the comparison is getting redundant). Another is “Bleeding Trees”, whose darkness feels even more authentic, and suggests that if they really wanted to, Sunder could spar with the best of the spooky-scary freakout bands. But of course, after not long they get right back to songs like “Wings of the Sun”, and we remember that their true bread and butter is that happy-to-be-high, just-gonna-lay-here-and-soak-it-up optimism of a trip well taken. Otherwise unsettling lyrics like “what’s in my mind/I’m freaking out” are undercut by bright major chords. saturated sonic bombast, and melodies that feel celebratory. We continue to face the unknown, but we do so with open arms.
I know by this point it may seem like I’ve only listened to the first half of the album, but trust me that it’s not the case. Perhaps Sunder is just sufficiently to-the-point that summaries are made quickly enough, leaving us only to listen and enjoy beyond that. And I suggest you do just that. This album is short and sweet, but wholly satisfying, and leaves little doubt that its creators will join the ever increasing ranks of noteworthy psych bands carving out a strong niche for themselves. Who in hell cares what season it is – lay down in some poppies and let this album wash over you like a hazy, sun-drenched summer’s day.
Head right over here to pick up the vinyl from Tee Pee Records.