Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Music Review: A Sunny Day in Glasgow - Autumn, Again

To call A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s epic sophomore album, Ashes Grammar, overlooked would be an understatement. This was my favorite album of 2009 and InRO didn’t even bother to review it. Of course, I’m sure if enough of us had heard it in time it would have been an easy shoo-in for somewhere around the top half of our year-end staff list, but it just goes to show how even in the information 2.0 era a major statement by potentially major band can fail to even move the needle, despite the outspoken championing from various corners of the blogosphere. So while their music can sound positively behemoth under the right conditions, A Sunny Day in Glasgow continue to work in small but effective gestures. Case in point: the band’s latest release, Autumn, Again, which follows just thirteen months after Ashes Grammar and plays as both victory lap and as solid reiteration of the band’s talent. What’s unclear is whether or not this is meant to be consumed as the proper follow-up to Ashes Grammar—everything from the recording specifics (laid down during the same sessions that birthed Ashes) to its distribution method (as a free download or reasonably priced vinyl) to its modest runtime (just over 30 minutes) would seem to suggest not. What I can tell you, however, is that Autumn, Again is thirty more minutes of wondrous dream-pop, regardless of contextual placement.

As expected from a set culled from a particularly fertile series of recording sessions, Autumn, Again feels cut from the exact cloth as Ashes Grammar. What really seals Autumn’s standalone worth, however, is the fact that it in no way feels like a batch of leftovers or B-sides or castoffs. This is a fully formed work, well considered in both overall structure and execution, perhaps a bit more modest in breadth than its predecessor but a great deal more approachable and inevitably digestible, particularly for those put off by Ashes’ daunting scope. What I continue to fascinating about this band, though, is the way they can weave dense sonic tapestries that don’t foreground atmosphere at the expense of songs. It’s rare with this genre to be given the opportunity to speak not only of the hazy aura these guys (and gals) can apparently conjure at the drop of a hat, but also the individual pop songs, of which Autumn, Again features a handful of their very best. As has become their wont, however, they don’t lead with what a normal pop band would traditionally utilize in order to grab a listener’s attention. Theirs is a subtle kind of build, an approach which seamlessly stitches a 30-second opener to the blurrily evocative pink wash of “Fall in Love”. Here as on Ashes, movements and segues become nearly imperceptible, further lending the record a unified vibe.

Album centerpiece “Sigh, Inhibitionist (Come All Day With Me)” refines the formula across six glorious minutes, exhibiting band leader and sole static member Ben Daniels’ uncanny way with both contrasting/interlocking melodies and long-form structure. Not only does each individuated section of the track carry its own ear-worm melody, but each successive sonic addition carries with it unique timbrel and harmonic characteristics, greeting the listener with a constantly changing backdrop of classic pop and psychedelic touches. The only other band I can currently think of that can so vividly embolden their songs through such purposefully obfuscating production techniques are the very different Canadian art-rockers Women. A couple of other good examples follow soon after as we enter my favorite stretch of the album. “Violet Mary Haunts Me OR Loss of Forgetfulness on Renfrew Street” layers a gently throbbing synthetic beat below 80s key strokes and Annie Fredrickson’s languid but never detached vocals, while “How Does Somebody Say When They Like You?” restores the live percussion and swelling crests of guitar haze for one of the band’s most propulsive and instantly affecting tracks to date. These highlights evidence a band nonchalantly working at the height of their powers, never prodding with zeitgeist-baiting lo-fi flourishes but instead conjuring a genuine feeling of haunting nostalgia through well considered, classic compositional techniques. As a preemptive follow-up to one of the best records in recent memory, Autumn, Again effectively tempers what could have grown to unreasonable expectations, but as its own self-contained unit, it offers more than enough to satisfy. [77/100] [Published: 11.11.10]

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