A Continuation and a Rebirth
The Montreal four-piece, Suuns, is back with their most melodic and grooviest album to date. Felt, out on Secretly Canadian, is an ambitiously experimental record no less immense and fascinating than their last three releases.
There’s something about Felt that appears simplistically hypnotic. Perhaps it’s the sharp-edged contrasts, the rigidity of the instrumentation pitted against the sleek silkiness of Ben Shemie’s voice, that occupy the album’s dimly lit (though brighter than 2016s Hold/Still) corners. The dance-heavy “X-ALT” plays like an early era LCD Soundsystem track, while “Watch You, Watch Me” has a distinctly Can vibe. In all, Felt feels more open (complete, if you will) with more pinprick drum work, nods to their influences and spaces for the music to naturally develop.
The album goes nix most of the glitchy digital effects left over from Hold/Still and instead focuses on more atmospheric electronic sounds. Even at points where the production feels at least a little bit overbearing, such as on the hypnotic “Daydream,” the band still manages to refrain from driving home the point too hard. The result is a thought-provoking record, fresh and polished—a release no other band of their caliber would be capable of putting out. True, at times, Felt doesn’t quite have the same punchiness that accompanies past Suuns albums. The bite here is different, more subtle, buried beneath ambiance and unique textures. Like on the sample-filled “Control,” it almost seems like the band is searching for a way to take charge of the music. The tracks are warmer, yet still moody, dark and blue. Much like its title, Felt plays a little bit softer than its predecessors, drawing comparisons, at times, to fellow Quebecois post-punk outfit, Ought.
Perhaps the sonic centerpiece of this record is found in the opening four tracks, “Look No Further,” “X-ALT,” “Watch You, Watch Me” and “Baseline.” These songs are strong, not only because they represent the best of this new side to Suuns, but because they strip back the instrumentation to a level of hypnotic simplicity. “Look No Further” features some impressive and multi-dimensional guitar noodling, where, over a somewhat synthetic post-punk rhythm, Ben Shemie sings, “Open your eyes, open your mind / And speak the truth, all these thoughts you kept at bay.”
The song “X-ALT” features a mixture of atmospheric, mostly indistinguishable, vocals and again, some impressive rhythm work—complete with syncopated drum machine loops and palm-muted guitar pulsations. Here, it seems obvious that Suuns is looking to fill some kind of “line of best fit” on their new material: the band neither ventures too deep into their already explored avant-garde gloom, nor serves up anything shy of brilliant post-punk for a new era. And on no song is this more apparent than on “Watch You, Watch Me.”
More melodic than its predecessors, “Watch You, Watch Me” incorporates a Krautrock aesthetic, a deep-seated propulsion that is fixed on expanding the horizons of the track’s soundscape. Ending with a three-minute instrumental jam, it’s clear that Suuns is focusing on spaces and patient experimentation.
When the song “Baseline” kicks in, the classifiable genre of Felt becomes even more telluric. Equal parts blue-tinted post-punk and a sort of mid-’80s German-inspired jazz fusion, “Baseline” plays like, well, a new baseline for the band. Later on in the album, one can hear Suuns trying to return to the sound they were exploring on “Baseline.” The song “Make It Real” plays like a glittering comedown, a long exhale before the album’s denouement. Shemie sings, “Hey, about this feeling / What am I supposed to do? / Do you know, do you care?” on one of the album’s more introspective tracks.
Album closer “Materials” incorporates more of an electronic breakbeat than on prior tracks, and the song’s production (infusing downtempo hip-hop textures with eerie synths and guitar harmonics) here seems to herald a new future direction for Suuns—a direction that is as dark as it is promising. Perhaps the band plans to develop even further, but on Felt, Suuns seem to be showing us a light amidst the usual gloom and miasma.