A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Sea When Absent

The band’s fourth LP is a pleasantly cacophonous sonic attack that takes shoegazing to the next level.

Additional Info

8.4

ALBUM: Sea When Absent

ARTIST: A Sunny Day in Glasgow

2014

Alternative

Philadelphia’s A Sunny Day in Glasgow (who, yes, are not actually from Glasgow) have always had a revolving lineup, led by multi-instrumentalist Ben Daniels. But on their fourth LP, the varied nature of their lineup also extends to their locations and day-jobs. Of the now six-person lineup, bassist Ryan Newmyer works as a prop assistant, vocalist Jen Goma lives in Brooklyn and is also a member of bands Pains of Being Pure at Heart and People Get Ready, and the leader himself Ben Daniels works as biostatistician in Melbourne. Because of their distance, the songs from this cycle came to fruition through email chains between band members. It’s a method that seems choppy, but allows for creative control to be spread out between bandmates. Sea When Absent is an immensely lush product that reflects the layered method of its creation. It’s a summer record at heart, but it gets so much deeper than that—swirling and psychedelic shoegaze that feels immense and infinite. It suffices to say they shot for the stars with this record and definitely succeeded.

For their sheer level of musicality, they could be labeled as sonic scientists. One of the greatest things about this record is that they’re not trying to sound like anyone else, which is especially cool in a genre that is known for its fair share of copycats of the big players. Shoegaze is a good genre for descriptive purposes, but it really only scratches the surfaces of the innovative sounds in this batch of songs. The sheer amount of instruments they use is staggering, from acoustic guitar strums on “The Body, It Bends” to the distorted electric guitar solo on “Crushin’” and sweeping violin on “The Things They Do to Me,” and a whole slew of dreamy and varied sounds they make with synthesizers. With this arsenal, they’re able to push the boundaries of songcraft with their atypical song structures that are playfully experimental. Each instrument interlocks with one another in a building cacophony of sound, including even the vocals, which are used as an instrument more than anything else (the lyrics are mostly obscured).

Often, their intensely ornate songs feel chaotic and overwhelming, though it’s a personal judgment call whether that’s a good thing or not. The opening track “Bye Bye Big Ocean” is an instance where their “everything but the kitchen sink” instrumentation gets too chaotic too fast. Regardless, the emotions they conjure are intense on all sides of the spectrum. On the other side of the spectrum, “In Love With Useless” is a standout on the record for showing the explosive potential of their song structures. Not only is it intensely beautiful, but each sound and mood shift feels so spontaneous yet intentional. As a listener, it really keeps you on your toes in the best way possible. These shifts are present throughout the record, from smooth chillwave to choppy breakbeat, are so incredibly smart that make you really wonder what their inspiration was behind them and how this daring musical experiment actually works out. Soon after, you’ll probably settle and conclude that it’s better to simply enjoy them.

Their incredibly liberated song structures breathe life into their music in the most refreshing ways. For such an ambitious record, it comes off as a celebration of music and life itself. The joyously uplifting moods of “Crushin’” and “Double Dutch” are reminiscent of childhood wonder, and the penultimate track “The Body, It Bends,” is a blissful anthem that should be the theme song to the best of day dreams. Above all, the countless instruments they bring together become larger than the sum of their parts—from start to finish, this record is a blissfully expansive sonic masterpiece.

“I feel so happy. I’m in love with you.”

1. Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End)
If they strove to put everything and the kitchen sink in one song, then they succeeded with this one. The album starts off with an immediate cacophony of sound that encapsulates and excites, but sounds like a literal war of individual ideas more than anything else. The sonic wall of crunchy synth sounds messy and anxious as it competes for the soundscape with two vocal lines. There’s a moment where the soaring soprano voice follows the synth line to the note—and not only is it the first moment of calm bliss in the song, it’s a sort of turning point for the song to take a breath and deconstruct into more clear cut melodies and anthemic synth. And in that moment, the first part of the dizzying journey feels worth it—as intoxicating and chaotic as it was.7.5
2. In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing)
Returning with another sonic cacophony, this time around feels much more pleasant than before, like they’ve found the right balance of noise. Soaring vocals mesh with off-kilter beats sublimely well, but the real kicker is when the lush dream pop is chopped up by break beat rhythms. Strangely, it seems exactly like them to want to rewrite the book of genre completely. It almost sounds like another song underneath trying to break through the cracks of the current transmission. It cycles between these two modes until the track is taken over by a singular buzzy synth with other instrument tracks trying to break in like before. Eventually, they break through in waves under the dreamy soprano. The only discernable lyric is, “I feel so happy, I’m in love with you,” but it sounds like there’s a word right after. The big question is whether it is what we think it is or if it harkens back to the title, a pretty much 180 shift in meaning. The ambiguity adds to the transfixing qualities of this stunning number.8.8
3. Crushin’
From the start, this seems like this is going to be simply a moody ballad—but since it’s their take on a ballad, it’s a woozy ornate masterpiece. The smooth and dreamy vocals match well with the mood of the pulsing instrumental line. It’s an oddly simple set-up for them, until one instrument breaks the pattern and it’s uncovered that a multitude of instruments are coming together to form this uniform sound. It’s such a smart way to make music. It gets intensely psychedelic when a trippy guitar line breaks the bliss, which adds to the sultry vibes. They really make the guitar solo into something special, something all their own. This sonic pastiche they’ve created feels so fresh.8.5
4. MTLOV (Minor Keys)
Let’s get this out of the way first: this song is not in a minor key. It’s definitely the most standard pop song on the record, but that doesn’t take away from how much a work of art it really is. Pulsing synths and a crystal-clear vocal melody make for a lush and dreamy atmosphere. Even the drum machine is breathing with life. It’s like a walking through a garden of sound with the catchiest melody we’ve heard in a long time. Even though their lyrics aren’t too lucid, the music speaks for itself in the ecstatic moods it conjures. Even on their poppy side, they’re still transcending musical boundaries to a beautiful end.8.0
5. The Things They Do to Me
ASDIG sure have a knack of making atypical song structures sound so natural. This one is a good example of that. It starts off sounding like a rock song, with crunchy guitars and a thumping drum beat. While it’s one of the most guitar-forward songs on the album, it evolves beautifully from rock to psych-pop with some amazingly dreamy guitar lines that serve as an intermediate point between the two sounds. As always, their swirling melodies and electrifying synths take the cake as the most pleasant sounds in this song. There’s even some violin thrown in there to shake it up! This time around, the one discernible lyric is “Talk to me,” which is repeated in ethereal vocals. It's like a command to the listener to break the through the musical boundary and participate, and it’s compelling.8.0
6. Boys Turn Into Girls (Initiation Rites)
Crunchy guitars ablaze; that’s the motto. Or, at least, it should be the motto of this song. Some brilliant shoegazing bookends a haunting vocal-driven interlude with a punching bass line that puts shivers down the spine. They start off the song at a sonic level we’re used to, but come back with a vengeance after the period of relative quiet during the interlude. If the speakers were turned up higher for the interlude to audible, then say hello to some shattered eardrums. This sonic assault gets the heart pounding in all the right ways with a dissonant guitar line floating on this staggering wall of sound. Songs like these require multiple listening to be able to pick up on every little detail, which is a wonderful thing for art to do.8.3
7. Never Nothing (It’s Alright [It’s Ok])
So far, the band has shown that they’re masters at making sounds feel infinite. This time around, they apply this knack to a sultrier groove. While channeling the soulful edge of Rhye, they add their own atmospheric touch to the genre most known for its retro vibes. The singer starts in her lower range, which adds to the warmth also conjured with the buzzing and crackly synths and beats. But soon enough, it bridges the gap between the soulful and the psychedelic in the musical breakdown, channeling contemporary psych-poppers like Connan Mockasin. Simply put, it’s a beautiful number in all of its spacey glory.8.7
8. Double Dutch
For an album of expansive five minute long songs and longer, one under 2 minutes seems like an anomaly. If it were placed in the middle of the record, it may seem like an interlude dividing the record in two at the halfway point, but here we have the eight track at one and a half minutes long. Whatever their rationale might be, this little interlude of sorts is a beautiful breather from the rest of the record. It plays like an epic and triumphant video game soundtrack with its cascade of synths and beautiful vocal harmonies. To add to the joyous mood, the last thirty seconds of the song end in quiet but infectious laughter. And with a title like “Double Dutch,” this track definitely captures the whimsies of childhood quite perfectly.8.0
9. The Body, It Bends
From the violins to the very present acoustic guitar strums, the song feels like it’s going to be a stripped-down ballad. But that’s soon refuted. Because of the muted qualities of the accompaniment early on, the vocals are very present and discernible for the first time in this album. As she’s proclaiming, “Oh god, I feel so loud,” the overwhelmingly majestic synths cut her off like a fireworks explosion. Some horns even join in on this perfectly blissful orchestra. Atmospheric, expansive, and spacey, it’s pretty much the musical equivalent of being lifted up to the sky on a rainbow. The positive vibes are so overwhelmingly strong that it’s hard not to express some feeling of joy while listening.9.0
10. Oh, I’m a Wrecker (What to Say to Crazy People)
It’s becoming apparent that this record’s big shift musically is that the lyrics get gradually more and more accessible to the ear. For the first part of this track, the vocals aren’t adorned with too much, just waves of synth oscillating down the scale, so the vocals are much clearer. But in a well-timed build-up, it transforms into one of their overwhelming cacophonies of sonic layers. Each layer of sound seems to be doing its own thing, but smashed together into one cake, they sound joyous and not at all distracting. The vocal harmonies at the end are just the icing on this delicious cake—their zany musical recipe was a success.8.4
11. Golden Waves
A big takeaway from this record is that we never know what to expect from them musically. There could be any stray melody lurking around the corner waiting to catch our ears off guard. In their final album track, they pull all the stops and give us a party. It starts off oddly, with some weirdly-timed percolating beats. But the auto-tune explosion of sound is just around the corner, and it’s as surprising and powerful as ever. It’s a sonic attack from all sides, but not one that causes injury. Instead of attack with weapons, your ears are being attacked with warm electronic hugs. It’s intensely pleasant, and the perfect way to end the album with a bang.8.7
Written by Hailey Simpson
Now attending college at UC Berkeley, Hailey's main passions in life are attending every concert she possibly can while keeping up with her studies, drinking copious amounts of Philz Coffee, and spinning tunes on her college radio station KALX.



comments powered by Disqus
Tagged under

News

Watch!

Listen