Albums / EPs, Reviews

Album Review: A Sunny Day In Glasgow – Sea When Absent

Lee Krasner, the famous 20th Century artist and wife of fellow abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, described…

 

Lee Krasner, the famous 20th Century artist and wife of fellow abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock, described her husband’s knack of merely numbering and not naming his experimental compositions by saying, “Numbers are neutral. They make people look at a picture for what it is—pure painting.” In many respects there is a similar approach to the third album by the Philadelphia-via-Brooklyn-via-Sydney psych-pop band, A Sunny Day in Glasgow, entitled Sea When Absent. Songs have seemingly obfuscating titles like “Oh, I’m a Wrecker (What to Say to Crazy People)”, the melodies are inverted and then dispensed with and there is a multitude of diffuse reference points from 60s psychedelia, shoegaze, folk and R’n’B that make attempting to pinpoint each on a frustrating task. Over the course of the chaotic yet all-consuming album the band manage to filter the vast vividness of their ideas into conventional songs; making beautiful sense out of apparent disorder – just like Pollock’s infamous paint drips. 

The easiest starting point for the band is looking at the disconnected and fragmented manner the album was recorded. The band members are spread across the US and frontman Ben Daniels is based in Sydney. The band put the album together through a series of long and protracted email exchanges with members sharing their own ideas of how a song should be constructed. The members were never altogether in a room to record it but sent their respective pieces in to be compiled. Despite what must have been a frustrating and protracted experience, the band together with producer Jeff Ziegler manage to create a cohesive and consistent delight. They do this by starting off with a straightforward pop album: incorporating lush vocals, bright instrumental washes and catchy hooks; but being the experimentalists they are, they then subject these songs to various turns and twists by painstakingly embellishing the songs with interesting sonic details and creating a dreamy atmosphere that still manages to feels tangible and direct. 

The first three songs are testament to the bold template. Opener ‘Byebye, Big Ocean (The End)’ tumbles immediately into action with crushed and distorted guitars over some softly pounding drums. The song’s title – linked to the album’s title – evokes the fierce lapping of waves, while Jen Goma’s angelic vocals float graciously over the length of the ensuing instrumental tumult. This continues on the standout ‘In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry In The Tradition of Passing)’, which bursts into life like a bright sunray. What is a giddy and jubilant display of emotion is made even more interesting by the subtle Passion Pit-reminiscent pitch-shifted vocals and the low bass static created at the end. What could have been a simple dream-pop song becomes a dizzying and looping spin through the sheer chaos of love. ASDIG are a band that relies heavily on texture and therefore it matters less what singers Goma and Annie Fredickson actually say as opposed to how they say it. The galloping harmonies are straight out of the 60s and work as augmenting instruments to the songs. Goma’s airy vocals are reminiscent of dream-pop stalwart Liz Frazier and Fredrickson’s wispy vocals recall the swoon of Trish Keenan of Broadcast. Those two talents are brought together on the stunningly sweet ‘Crushin’’ that works as a sweeping shoegaze ballad, similar to My Bloody Valentine’s ‘New You’, broken up by a thrilling guitar solo. 

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Although the similarities with My Bloody Valentine are clear in the brightly distorted instrumental fuzz, ASDIG often throw in references to other artists. From the big arena rock, U2-style guitars, that cut through ‘Boys Turn Into Girls (Initiation Rites)’ to the glorious R’n’B on ‘Never Nothing (It’s Alright [It’s OK]), that could act as a leftfield cover of a Sugarbabes or All Saints song with the gathering vocals and swelling production. There is even the repurposed folk of ‘The Body, It Bends (ペルセポネが帰ってきた!)’, which careens, with the force of a summer wind, into a warming and fluttering anthem. On penultimate song, ‘Oh, I’m A Wrecker (What To Say To Crazy People)’ which threatens to break into a big 90s alt-rock bruiser before retreating down another warped psychedelic pathway. 

The album closes with the sumptuous and simply titled, ‘Golden Waves’. The synths and frayed electronics blur and muffle the vocals, which are really hiding an excellent JoJo song underneath. It is a fitting and satisfying conclusion to a whirlwind of a lovingly tortured and meticulously built avant-pop album. Despite the success of the album it is obvious that the band have a great knack for gorgeous and bright songwriting and it would be interesting to see the results of an album that allowed those strengths to be brought further into the spotlight as opposed to being hidden behind the kinetic yet impressive production. It would allow the band to explore the depths of their emotions more vividly. However, as the final notes come to a close, the album feels just like the experience of sticking your head out a moving car window, a brave somersault on a trampoline or bombing into the deep-end of a pool: short, simple and not particularly life changing. But in that weightless and fleeting moment, it is no less triumphant. 

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