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Happy Hosting, Happy New Year - Rob Ellen
It’s such a good feeling to find a new band to get excited about and, for me, Vancouver’s Sumner Brothers offer plenty to get excited about. The Hell In Your Mind is something like their sixth album and apparently represents something of a departure according to reviewers familiar with their earlier work, though my investigations on Youtube suggest the elements to be found here have been present in their work for years.
Mostly loud, intense and impassioned, these guys have built some full-on musical assaults around simple, repeated structures. The short theme at the core of The Ant Song, for example, has something like eight notes cycling insistently at the centre of a maelstrom of interesting developments spiralling up and away; similarly insistent is the duh duh, duh duh, duh duh, duh duh, duuhh that provides the meaty pulse to Last Night I Got Drunk. On this occasion they juxtapose some softly introspective passages with the suppressed ferocity of emotion at the heart of the music.
Dark fears and dark realities permeate this album, as you might expect from the title. As opening lines go, try this for example:
“Thirty one years ago/I killed my mother at birth/ And now my dad/ Hates me”
This is sung with the downbeat matter of factness that reminds me of Richmond Fontaine but the song winds itself up to a ferociously repeated phrase – “You don’t know what it’s like!” – that blows you away with the intensity of it’s emotion. Just one thought in the brain, and this is it: “You Don’t Know What It’s Like!!!”
There is room for sweetness in the depths of all this darkness. It Wasn’t All My Fault, a breakup song, has a painfully beautiful melody to express the bittersweet mood and is like finding a rose thriving amidst a nest of barbed wire, a rich colour amongst the jagged edges of black and white.
Two things above all strike me about this album: the first is The Sumner Brothers boldness and skill in making songs built around the very simplest of musical elements. The second is their determination – along with all the finest artists there ever were in rock music – to make music that their muse demands, to please no-one but themselves. There is more going on here in 35 minutes or so than most albums you’re likely to encounter this year; electric, acoustic, ferocious, gentle, impassioned and utterly sincere, this is a fascinating new step for the strand of music we once knew as country noir.
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