A Sunny Day In Glasgow - Sea When Absent | Album Review | By Volume

Gotta get out, before my heart explodes. Candy Says - Not Kings
Sea When Absent

A Sunny Day In Glasgow

Sea When Absent

A touching and vastly intricate record, that’s deceptively accessible, packed full with luscious hooks.

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Author: on July 1, 2014
8.5
Lefse Records

When A Sunny Day In Glasgow last left us, it was on the heels of quite a tumultuous timespan in the band’s life. A core trio of siblings Ben, Robin and Lauren Daniels had matured past the meandering art-rock of their good, albeit kind of snoozy debut Scribble Mural Comic Journal and recruited a handful of new, permanent members, to flesh out their sound a bit more for their subsequent release. That album, Ashes Grammar, was something special indeed, but was hardly a product of serenity. During Ashes’ recording, new bassist Brice Hickey broke his legs while loading equipment into his car, effectively ending his brief tenure with A Sunny Day In Glasgow. This subsequently lead to both Daniels sisters departing – Robin left to care for her injured boyfriend Hickey, while Lauren was off to graduate school – all that remained, really, was Ben and guitarist Josh Meakim. Though A Sunny Day In Glasgow was far from dead and buried.

Enter the angelically voiced Annie Fredrickson (and later, the equally as vocally-enthralling Jen Goma), who also happened to be a classically trained cellist and pianist, and suddenly it seemed as if Scribble Mural Comic Journal wouldn’t be a casual byproduct of serendipitous happenstance (or, you know, a lot of intense effort). The band reformed, adding Ryan Newmyer on bass and Adam Herndon on drums, along with the aforementioned Goma, via a Myspace add (yes, Myspace) and completed the Ashes’ recording sessions, and had so much good-to-life-changing music, they were able to whittle the output down to 2009’s best record, a damn good follow-up EP in Nitetime Rainbows and a b-sides collection that was itself a whole new record in Autumn, Again. Since 2011 though, the Philadelphia dream pop collective has been a bit dormant – understandable when you think of the huge emotional and logistical upheaval their lives went through between 2008 and 2010 – but thankfully, they’ve returned, and with Sea When Absent, prove that this band’s talent in creating kaleidoscopic pop music, sopping wet with hooks, was far from a quick-flash of utter brilliance – A Sunny Day In Glasgow return resoundingly sustainable.

By that I mean, this version of the band, while similar, feels very different from that of the Ashes’ sessions. It’s the same line-up, sure, as it has been pretty much since the band started touring for Autumn, Again, but this is the first album that feels completely theirs. Ben Daniels is still the band’s primary songwriter, but unlike Ashes and Autumn, Sea When Absent was created with no member changes and feels like it’s not here to prove anything. Surprisingly so too, as none of the band members were all present together during its recording,the differentiation between their schedules made it impossible for everyone to be together at once. Still, Ashes Grammar was a 22-track behemoth that consisted of movements, broken into various fragments, packaged up as single tracks, that was somehow able to be experimentally progressive, with legitimately delectable singles. Autumn followed as a less cohesive collection, that felt like a more traditional album (re: a collection of tracks) yet still was loosely adhering to traditional pop songwriting, while providing all those saccharine audio-highs. I feel like Sea When Absent is the maturation of these two aesthetics. Sitting in the middle between Ashes’ decidedly avant-garde approach and Autumn’s more pop-friendly nature, A Sunny Day In Glasgow have crafted their most easily digestible and probably most rewarding record yet.

You know, where everybody else has drawn the line”, Fredrickson relays to begin “In Love with Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing)”, the album’s first single and initial indication that the band had something new for us. “Anti-psychotics sink to the bottom / Think of it — death as something”, she continues via some fiendishly high-pitched auto-tune. Think of a young hell spawn, with the voice of an angel – the song crashes around Fredrickson, warbling between inversely tracked distortion and sparkling electronic flourishes – this is all before Goma joins in the vocal fray, turning the hook into an anthemic choir, imploring you to move to the beat and sink to the street, because it’s in your blood and it’s difficult to not feel like they’re right. Sea When Absent, though not necessarily a singles album, is definitely the Sunny Day In Glasgow album that, so far, grooves hardest. You can dance to this record, between a healthy wiggle to an ass-shaking for the ages (seriously, closer “Golden Waves” is nothing but exceptional booty-moving music) – it’s a casual, party pleasing record, that as well, rewards exponentially with each personal headphone listen. In fact, like most of their music, it’s utter ear candy, providing layers upon layers of lush melodies to become lost within. Or you can slip it on during a sunny day to enjoy a relaxing afternoon, even a quick snooze, as songs like “Boys Turn Into Girls (Initiation Rites)”, “Never Nothing (It’s Alright [It's Ok])” and “The Body, It Bends” are just serene enough to be relaxing, but exciting enough to keep you extensively attentive. Though this is what makes Sea When Absent such a great LP – it plays effortlessly in so many situations.

Not that one needs a specific environment to listen to great tunes, but some places and times are more conducive to a certain type of music as compared to others. Vague as that sounds, and clichéd a reality it is, it’s reality all the same. Sometimes you may love a piece of music limitlessly, yet you can only listen to in specific situations – and as much as I love Ashes Grammar, I feel like it’s one of those records. Though, this is also why I hold it up with such high regard, yet inversely, Sea When Absent is amazing because it’s so difficult to put down and can be played to improve most situations. “Wait on your heart, and you might get burned” Fredrickson and Goma harmonize to setoff “Golden Waves”’ second movement, and I can’t help but feeling like this is how A Sunny Day In Glasgow approached the recording of this record. It’s resplendent at times, but also deeply introspective and forlorn. Amongst its luscious melodies and sky bound vocals, Fredrickson and Goma relay hazy tales of broken relationships, miscued love, bitter break-ups and disconnection from society – you’ll just be hard pressed to unearth these touching, and at times, heart-wrenching lyrics from the gorgeous flurry of dreamy pop surrounding them. Though, this is probably the most enjoyable aspect to the entire record – just when you think you’ve heard it all, there’s always more to unearth. This aesthetic is a calling-card of sorts for A Sunny Day In Glasgow, but with Sea When Absent, they’ve established it wasn’t a fluke success constructed during weeks of serious artistic duress. As if after already hitting such heights previously, the best is still yet to come. This record leaves me feeling like Ashes Grammar wasn’t their peak. Yet, Sea When Absent isn’t a better record, but it is close, and it’s different enough to leave you helplessly salivating for more.

 

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