There are no ifs or buts about it – SUUNS are a band caught in a unique juncture of past and present on their new EP, FICTION. On the eerie opener, “LOOK,” the Montreal-based band conjures an ominous atmosphere straight off the bat. Vocalist Ben Shemie recalls sermons, his vocals high in the mix; processed to the point where words are unintelligible but that doesn’t even matter. All you can focus on is the feeling “LOOK” demands. “FICTION” takes a leaf out of trip-hop legends Portishead’s books with beats contrasting against a mournful elegy: “Where are you from, you don’t seem to know,” Shemie sings. “Life is long as a day/And one by one, you see them fall/I can’t talk, can’t take anymore.”
The lively melodies of “FICTION” lead to “DEATH,” featuring Amber Webber (Lightning Dust). Immediately, “DEATH” sounds like no other track on the FICTION EP. Sure, it’s dark, moody, and menacing; but it’s more gauzy guitars ala My Bloody Valentine than Massive Attack. Webber’s vocals drenched in delay are the high point of the track. SUUNS close with a track with more words than the rest of the EP altogether. It’s also a cover. Closer, “TROUBLE EVERY DAY” brings Frank Zappa’s vision to the present. Zappa’s cynical predictions from 1966 have been repurposed by SUUNS to match with the current day.
“PRAY,” the lead single off FICTION, was originally recorded in 2015 with American record producer, John Congleton (Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, St. Vincent) and was intended to feature on the band’s 2016 album, Hold/Still. Drummer Liam O’Neill explained that the track didn’t make the cut, as the band knew that they had an even better version of it in them. They subsequently recorded the song multiple times, but none of the recordings “captured the unhinged energy of this live-off-the-floor performance. Discovering this lost jam and its power felt like a reminder to keep in the moment and to trust ourselves – you just have to keep moving forward.” The atmospherics of “PRAY” is simply astounding. It’s a thing of intense, glitchy excellence: Shemie’s vocal, cut up and garbled, sounds like he’s summoning an angel (or a demon); while the track’s glorious time change led by bassist/keyboardist Max Henry, more than justifies this year’s period of reimagination. SUUNS made the right call.
On the instrumental highlight, “BREATHE,” SUUNS are once again joined by friends and collaborators, Jerusalem in My Heart. Like their collaborative self-titled album, each band brings the best out of each other by combining Jerusalem in My Heart’s Arabic modes with Shemie and guitarist/bassist Joe Yarmush’s sharp arpeggios and beats. It’s difficult to explain just how the track has affected me, as it’s unlike any other experience I’ve had with music.
In two minutes and 31 seconds, SUUNS transport me back to church. More specifically, the Greek Orthodox church that’s a 20-minute tram ride from my grandmother’s house. Now, let me be clear: the only times you will see me in a church is for weddings or funerals, and I intend to keep it that way. I don’t miss going to church. I haven’t suddenly found God in 2020. However, my memories, driven by the epic bouzouki riff and claps of “BREATHE” are so visceral that I’ve spent weeks trying to figure out why and how this song has implanted itself into my very being.
There are two reasons: Melbourne’s four-month stage 4 lockdown, which ended last week, was brutal. As an introvert, I never expected last month, in particular, to be so grueling. I found myself missing all the familiarities that we take for granted: chatting with baristas as they prepare my coffee; strolling through the city because I can; visiting my grandmother once a fortnight or choosing not to go to church. For the people born in my grandmother’s generation, and others who believe in a deity, having church visits ripped from you for months on end is an insurmountable loss.
That building is more than a place of worship. After all, we can all pray and worship from our homes. However, what we lose by closing the doors of churches is community. It’s a meeting place where you see your friend with the bad knees because trekking to church is worth it for two hours of peace. It’s where you see distant relatives for weddings and then at funerals, and you hope that you never have to see them at a funeral again. It’s a place of traditional music; be it Greek or Arabic. It’s a place to release your worries. Most of all, you never feel alone in a church. And you never feel alone when you listen to SUUNS.