The Crocodile Presents:
Suuns at The Sunset
Graham Van Pelt
Tue, December 4, 2018
This event is 21 and over
SUUNS has partnered with PLUS1 so that $1 from every ticket sold goes to support Youth Speaks and their work through arts education, youth development, and civic engagement, to challenge young people to find, develop, publicly present, and apply their voices as creators of societal change youthspeaks.orghttps://www.thecrocodile.com/event/1742934/
You can hear this freedom flowing through the 11 tracks on Felt. It’s both a continuation and rebirth, the Montreal quartet returning to beloved local facility Breakglass Studios but this time recording themselves at their own pace, over five fertile sessions spanning several months. A simultaneous stretching out and honing in, mixed to audiophile perfection by St Vincent producer John Congleton who flew up especially from Dallas to deploy his award-winning skills in situ.
While maintaining a pleasing economy, the informality of self-production has enabled Suuns to explore bright new vistas. “Us doing it ourselves, that process was like a very receptive, limitless workshop to just try out ideas,” declares drummer Liam O’Neill.
Hence the hypnotic future-pop percolations of X-ALT or the way Watch You, Watch Me’s organic/synthetic rush builds and and builds atop elevatory rhythm and the ecstatic, Harmonia-meets-Game Boy patterns. As befits a band who cite Andy Stott and My Bloody Valentine as touchstones yet don’t sound like either, Suuns have always seamlessly blended the programmed and played. Never mere fusionists, it’s now pointless trying to decode their sonic signature as ‘dance music that rocks’ or vice versa.
Other notable developments are singer/guitarist Ben Shemie’s newfound vocal range and buoyant melodies, showcased in such wholly unexpected delights as the yearning lilt of Make It Real and sax-smoothed Peace And Love, which sincerely comes on like a post-punk Sade. There’s a previously unheard confidence to the singer and lyricist, perhaps best exemplified by centre-piece Control, where his hushed tones are complemented by a bilingual voice musing on dreams and reality, sampled from an old Montreal social art project.
Suuns are proud of their roots in Canada’s most socialist province, whilst not sounding quite like anything else the city has produced. “Conditions are great for musicians, but not so much if you want to be a high powered investment banker,” laughs Ben. “If I could compare Montreal to anywhere I’d say it's kind of like Berlin, in the sense that there isn't a huge industry, so there isn't that much money. Plus you have to speak French if you want a career, so that stops too many people moving here. It’s gentrifying at a slower rate than other cities.”
Quebecois natives Shemie and guitarist Joseph Yarmush founded the group just over a decade ago, the latter having moved to Montreal from a nearby village. The only member not to be formally schooled in jazz, guitarist Yarmush studied photography and utilized his visual training to help realize Shemie’s novel concept for the eye-catching album artwork.
“I was at a barbecue last summer and there were balloons everywhere,” recalls the singer. “I like this idea of pressure, resistance, and pushing against something just before it brakes. And there is something strangely subversive about a finger pushing into a balloon. It seemed to fit the vibe of the record we were making. We made plaster casts of our hands, going for a non-denominational statue vibe. Joe came up with the colour scheme, the sickly green background, and shot the whole cover in an hour.”
It’s a suitably outré image for Felt, which breaks with Suuns’ earlier darkness for a more optimistic ambience. The record’s playful atmosphere is echoed by its double meaning title. “Some people might think of the material,” muses Ben. “I like that that could be misconstrued. Also it’s to have felt and not to feel – a little introspective, but that feeling’s in the past.”
With the perspective of leaving a longtime home, of watching old friends change and familiar places become unrecognizable, came a recommitment to an emotional honesty in Van Pelt’s songwriting. Time Travel’s eight songs are a tangle of friendships and feelings. Moving backwards and forwards in time, they occupy a space of elegant melancholy.
Immersing himself in the work of house music legends like Larry Heard, Vincent Floyd and Maurizio and the fragile disco of Arthur Russell, along with contemporaries like Jessy Lanza and Kelly Lee Owens, Van Pelt built the album from the bottom up, rooting every track in the crude sequencer of the Roland SH-101 synth, a decades-old dance music totem. The result are melodies that are simple but affecting, anchored to deep, wandering basslines. Time Travels was engineered by twin brothers Mark and Matt Thibideau, whose techno roots deepened the grooves throughout the record.
There’s a comfort to operating in the world of dance music, which is, in Van Pelt’s words, more of a “team sport” than the competitive atmosphere of indie rock. “I feel like one person participating in a community,” he says, “and less of a person trying to rise above.” The album is also Van Pelt’s first release on Arbutus, which he describes as his “dream outcome” for the record. “Their catalog intersects at a place that feels like home to me,” he says. “Music for late night, atmospheric music, really honest and unvarnished truthful stuff that never compromises.”
Time Travel is a renewal of Van Pelt’s vows with dance music, and with the genre’s pulse of synthesized melancholy. It’s a heartrending rush, as emotionally direct as a sweaty, jaw-clenching 3am hug.
5433 Ballard Ave NW
Seattle, WA, 98107