Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Album of the Week: Bonus EP Edition - The Suckers EP and Unsparing Sea's "In the Crystal Canyon"

As today is Wednesday, here I am with another Album of the Week post. However, this week I'm mixing things up a bit and giving you a two-for-one deal. This week I'm posting reviews of two EPs, the first by Brooklyn-based Suckers and the second by local heroes Unsparing Sea. Though sonically distinct, these two albums have a lot in common - first and foremost, I'm super stoked for each band's full length release now, thanks to the strength of these appetite-whetters.

The Suckers EP (which is called just that, The Suckers EP), is wonderful, and about as diverse as a band can be in four songs while still sounding like the same band throughout the album. The first track, "Beach Queen," sounds like a little Talking Heads mixed with a dab of Ric Ocasek, with an underlying pretty strain that balances out the various elements of frenetic weirdness. Toward the end of the track, there is some great guitar noodling, reminding me of something like a sweet major chord Chinese jam. In all, "Beach Queen" is a simple, delightful 80s-esque pop song.

On "Afterthoughts & TV", Suckers transitions nicely from David Byrne to ... Jimmy Buffett. The song has an infectious chorus, as if Arcade Fire was Buffett's backing band and Wim decided to play the tune mostly straight. Mostly.

Track 3, "Easy Chairs," is like the baddest-ass 'ring around the rosies' you've ever heard. Songs like this one make me wish I had the lyrics, cause I want to SING! Check out the song's official video below:

The EP closes with the tune that first turned me on to the band. On a post-SXSW All Songs Considered podcast, Bob Boilen played this tune and it made me sit up in bed, scrambling for my cell phone so I could type myself a note to remember to get the record the next day. "It Gets Your Body Movin'" is, stated simply, the best song I've heard in ages, at least since I first listened to "John Brown" by Papercuts. Of this song, I can say nothing else. Pick up the EP and enjoy it yourself.

All in all, Suckers is a band that breeds hyperbole. I can barely resist the temptation to use multiple exclamation points and triple-descriptors. In that spirit, I'll give into one last bit of enthusiasm: though I'll need to see them live at least once, and probably get their LP first, I'm confident saying that this could be my new favorite band. Seriously. As a result, and perhaps unsurprisingly, The Suckers EP receives the second-ever top score on my review rubric: Get your ass to the fucking record store immediately and buy this shit before the Smithsonian requisitions all copies as cultural artifacts of awesomeness. Though you might have problems buying it at the record store, since I had to order my copy from Music Saves and they seemed unlikely to stock the album any time soon. Still, order it straight from the band through their website. Maybe, just maybe, they'll see a sudden spike of Cleveland zip codes when they trek over to the post office and decide to play a gig here. Hey, it could happen.

Speaking of favorite bands, since moving here and buying their debut full-length, A Cloud in the Cathedral, Unsparing Sea has been the band whose e-blasts I read the most carefully and whose myspace page I check the most frequently. I've seen them a few times, but more often than not their rare local performances come when I'm out of town or otherwise and unavoidably engaged. Considering that the aforementioned debut album was the best I bought in 2007 (along with that year's Besnard Lakes release), you can imagine my excitement when this EP was announced.

The EP, in all, does a solid job of meeting those lofty expectations, and bodes well for the full-length due later this summer or fall. The first two tracks of this release are teasers from that forthcoming LP, In the Diamond Caverns. Not long into the first track, "Wolves at a Wedding," it is already evident that the band has left behind much of the sea chanty hook that characterized their first album, but has retained the mournfulness, thanks to the song structures and the ever-present cello (as well as, dare I say, a theremin?). This new approach brings a lot fuller sound than before, though admittedly does so at the loss of musical diction. The vocals are more buried, the lyrics not always as easy to make out.

"Diamond Caverns" is the second song on the EP and, one would seem to be safe in supposing, the title track for the forthcoming full-length. It is also straight-up indie rock, with warbling off-key vocals (the vocals are better when they are strengthened in the chorus). This song could be a b-side for The National, particularly when the tune really starts to jam in the second half. The chorus on this track is everything I love about this band.

Track three, "Dear Playwright," is simply AWESOME. This song makes buying the EP a worthwhile financial investment, especially since it won't be on the upcoming full-length. The lead-in consistently makes me think of a favorite Daniel Johnston song ("This Song" from Retired Boxer), though when I listen to the two tunes back-to-back, the comparison isn't quite so obvious. I love the pacing throughout the song, particularly the guitar work early on. The tune gets more powerful at the 2 minute mark, and infinitely cooler at the 3 minute mark. I am not usually a drums guy, but I want to play drums to this song. Played live, the drummer should be absolutely unleashed toward the end of the song.

The EP closes with what is referred to as an alternative version of "All I Want" and sees the band at its most anthemic. I could see U2 playing this song (though lest that seem like too much an insult, I could also see Jason Lytle recording it, too). Once again, the cello makes the track.

As a whole, I can't fully judge this release until the LP comes out, for at that point its strength as a bridge from the sea-worthy debut to whatever comes next will become more evident. Still, on its own, it is good, and I give it a grade somewhere between "buy it new next time you hit the record store" and "buy it used next time you see it in the bargain bin" - if all four tracks were ones that you wouldn't be able to get on the next album, it'd be a clear buy it new, but as you'll be able to get fully half of them on the next album, the grade slips a bit (though it is buttressed by the cool hand-packaging, an Unsparing Sea specialty). Still, kudos to the band for putting out this good release - I'm very excited to pick up In the Diamond Caverns when it comes out later this year.

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