Special Features: Black vinyl.
- Deadly Flower
- Cursed Wolf
- Daughter of the Snows
- Wings of the Sun
- Bleeding Trees
- Eye Catcher
- Thunder and Storm
- Don't Leave It Behind
- Lucid Dreams
Release Date: October 30, 2015
Label: Tee Pee Records
Don’t call it a reboot. More like a do-over, maybe. The story goes like this: Early in 2014, a band from Lyon, France, called The Socks released their self-titled debut (review here) on Small Stone Records. Good album. Very much in the post-Kadavar/Graveyard retro-boogie vein, but ably executed, particularly for a young band on their first LP. About a year and a half later, that same band — identical lineup: guitarist/vocalist Julien Méret, drummer Jessy Ensenat, bassist Vincent Melay and organist/backing vocalist Nicolas Baud — reemerge as Sunder, and take a second shot at a self-titled debut, this time through Tee Pee and Crusher Records.
Near as I can tell, the major jump is in Baud swapping out a guitar for keys, but one of the most striking aspects of Sunder‘s first album is that it really is far enough away from what these guys were doing as The Socks to justify being a different band. Songs like the fortified opening salvo of “Deadly Flower,” “Daughter of the Snows” and “Cursed Wolf” — which were also included on Sunder‘s demo (review here) earlier this year — give the listener an immediately fuller sense of breadth, incorporating elements culled from earlier psychedelic and garage rock, less directly indebted to one band or another than to an aesthetic itself that, while undeniably drawn from these decades-old tenets, sounds refreshing for the nuance and melody with which Sunder carry it. If this is a do-over, they’re doing it right.
As with their prior incarnation, Sunder‘s debut arrives with remarkably little pretense. Its nine tracks comprise a thoroughly manageable 33:43, and from the beginning organ line and fuzz of “Deadly Flower” (video premiere here), the foursome maintain an efficient balance of resonant hooks, open vibe and pervasive groove. Nothing’s overcooked, but the material feels thought through and vocal arrangements tap Beatles-style harmonies without falling into a post-Uncle Acid trap, and while “Daughter of the Snows” has some of that Graveyardian swing, Sunderbring more than enough of their own personality to make the shuffle fit with the surrounding material, “Cursed Wolf” playing back and forth on the throttle early before shifting into a sun-caked midsection fuzz jam that seems like it’s going to be a departure point for a build but winds up trailing back to the verse and chorus to close — just a little break from reality, then. A welcome one at that.
Wings of the Sun” is complementary in its trippy spirit and vocal harmonies, natural sounding but still leaving space for Ensenat‘s drums to thud out an easily-followed beat or for Baud‘s organ to bolster the overarching lysergic nostalgia, which presents a mood much more 1966 than 1971, leaning well over the cusp of the psychedelic era as though — not to harp on it — trying to capture a moment between Rubber Souland Revolver, plus the organ and minus the cynicism that would later inform what became heavy rock. Sunder‘s Sunder has several legitimately gorgeous stretches, and “Wings of the Sun” is one of them.
Centerpiece “Bleeding Trees” follows and is perhaps even more of an accomplishment, since not only does it bask in the same warmth as the song before it, but it pushes that warmth to a weightier purpose. A darker turn in the verse, shoutier in its bridge, more direct in its choral fullness, “Bleeding Trees” brings out Mellotron backing for a high-point guitar solo and is still done in under four minutes, setting a quick return to the sun with “Eye Catcher,” an A-side in the making that freaks out on fuzz in its first half and goes buzzsaw in its second, all while keeping a fast pace and holding firm to the energy Sunder have shown throughout.
Méret presides over the subsequent “Thunder and Storm” with crisp frontman presence, though the backing he receives from the layered keys and Ensenat‘s what-did-the-drum-do-to-deserve-such-a-beating snare is not to be understated. These quick bursts in “Eye Catcher” and “Thunder and Storm” help propel Sunder‘s second half, but also add to the complexity of the first, expanding the album’s opening progression by showing the band aren’t necessarily beholden to one tack or another. The dynamic is emphasized in the slowdown of the love-lorn “Don’t Leave it Behind,” an open crash, choice key line and balance in the high and low end showing just how deep in the mix Sunder can do while Méret — if I’m not mistaken — turns the vocals backwards from within the swirl. Closing out, the swaggering roll of “Lucid Dreams” is as close as they come to the five-minute mark at 4:51 and a legitimately earned victory lap through another memorable chorus.
It’s no small thing for a band to stop what they’re doing, look around them, decide they want to be somewhere else sonically, and then actually make that change happen. Not only to do it, but to do it without changing a lineup. Sunder‘s first LP is a standout release for the context in which it arrives, but it’s the songwriting and the potential the band shows in their arrangements that make it one of 2015’s strongest debuts, as brazen as it is completely realized. One hopes in listening to it that Méret, Baud, Melay and Ensenat have found the place they’ll call home in terms of style, because what they’re doing across these tracks suits them well and seems to be ripe for any number of avenues for future progression. - The Obelisk (http://theobelisk.net/obelisk/2015/10/29/sunder-sunder-review-stream/)