It’s been a while but A Sunny Day In Glasgow are back with ‘Sea When Absent’, their third album proper. ‘Sea When Absent’ situates itself in the science fiction that is life in 2014 and goes looking for what new myths might speak to us in our post- Fukushima, post-quantum, post-everything world.
Recorded over a year and half with Jeff Zeigler (War On Drugs, Kurt Vile) at his Uniform Recording Studios in Eraserhood Philadelphia, the album is a conscious move away from the bright-dark, ambient maximalism of the band’s acclaimed double album ‘Ashes Grammar’ and a move towards a post-millennial, upfront pop sound. ‘Sea When Absent’ is simultaneously A Sunny Day In Glasgow at their most accessible, most insane and most rock.
Appropriately for new beginnings, ‘Sea When Absent’ marks a number of firsts for the band - it’s the first album recorded in a ‘real’ studio by someone who isn’t Ben or Josh, the first album not written mostly by Ben, the first album with next-to-no reverb and the first time in A Sunny Day In Glasgow’s history that it has existed as an actual band (and not just Ben or Josh playing everything). There was also a conscious effort to get away from aspects of recording that have defined this band in the pasts, namely heavily reverbed and buried vocals.
Vocalists Jen Goma and Anne Fredrickson have beautiful voices and it was time to explore the possibilities of their abilities / talents. Jen took on a central role in the making of this album, stepping up to write most of the lyrics and melodies. Annie also contributed melodies throughout the album and put her classical cello training to use adding string arrangements.
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Here's album number four from A Sunny Day In Glasgow. This is a geographically scattered troupe led by Ben Daniels, who somewhat confusingly resides in the always-sunny streets of Philadelphia. Owing to the distance between members none of these songs were actually recorded with all the band members in the same room.
In 'Sea When Absent' they expand upon the driving dreampop sound established on those early albums, but the vocals are more dry and present than the buried, wistful smudges of previous recordings, which gives them quite an easy-going indie rock immediacy, although our Phil reckons the slickening-up of their sound is to their detriment. Opener 'Byebye, Big Ocean (The End)' kicks things off in promising fashion with some crumbling JAMC-esque walls of fluffy guitar fuzz, bright synths complementing an uplifting Lush-ish distorto-drift.
This is an early high water mark they struggle to equal over the rest of the album, which while pleasant at worst can be a bit on the wishy-washy side. The Cocteaus-esque 'MTLOV (Minor Keys)' and the too-short 'Double Dutch' with its plodding robotic beat and juddering synth shimmers also warrant their own special mentions. Although there are places where they sound like they're on autopilot, there's enough meticulously realised dreampop goodness here to satisfy fans of the genre.
9/10 Theo Gorst Customer review, 14th August 2014
I put Sea When Absent's second track "In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing)" (fans of brackets rejoice!), on a mixtape for my girlfriend a few months ago. She couldn't stand the track, likening it to "a stadium banger" yet undeterred I bought the LP from which it came. And a fine move that was too! "In Love With Useless" is such a fantastic track, and is probably my favourite on the record, it's a glorious collage of sounds and is an example of the band's disjointed recording style benefiting their output. It's almost aggressively joyous and after the two vocalists (Anne Fredrickson and Jen Goma) pull out the track glides into a motorik outro, which eventually apes a sound akin to a vomiting jet engine. The song superbly plays on the disconnect between beauty and brutality. Elsewhere softer moments such as "Crushin" and "Double Dutch" show the band's excellent use of restraint.
I can't help but find the shoegaze tag a little bit of a turn off, as for the most part modern offerings from the genre only offer records mining from the MBV vault, yet Sea When Absent works as a refreshing re-imagination of the sound. Made through a constant volley of emails sent back and forth over continents, it's an usual record in conception, yet is a surprisingly beautiful one in sound.
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