ALBUM: Sea When Absent
ARTIST: A Sunny Day in Glasgow
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.”