Indie rock without the impact
Sunday State is a fairly new musical act, but its members have more than enough experience to go around. Frontmen Michael Carothers and Kurt Foster have known each other for 20 years prior to the conception of this project, and that familiarity is actually one of the best parts of this project. When Foster sings about specific experiences and emotional hangups, it’s always with the tenderness, passion and caring nature of a close friend. The pair also employed indie rock veterans like Steve Turner of Mudhoney to further their collaborative efforts. Unfortunately, for all its moments of catharsis and raw openness, there are more than a few moments that fall quite a bit short.
The album starts with “Timber Town Run,” a fairly tepid intro. More momentum is accumulated by the end of the track, but it’s mostly just underwhelming. Despite the lack of instrumental execution, the “I want to run” refrain is a nice thematic intro. “Junior Spacecraft” is much better. There are some nice riffs here, and the chorus is quite catchy. The swinging vocals are fun but end the track in a weird place. That extended “junior spacecraft overheated” line at the tail-end of the track just feels awkward. Overall though, there’s also a brightness to this track that helps to make up for the weak intro.
Sunday State ups the ante once again in terms of energy on “White Pine County.” It feels like the soundtrack to a self-destructive dive bar adventure. It’s emotional, and the lyrics are relatively dark, yet the track still feels celebratory. It’s an entertaining one and ends on a climax that actually feels satisfying. “Faded Nashville” is Foster and Carothers taking a step back for a moment. Much more reserved, “Faded Nashville” sees Sunday State taking a bit of a singer-songwriter turn—a tender and deeply rewarding one.
The following track, “Sundown,” is unfortunately just an all-too-familiar indie rock sound with a Western bent. Don’t get it twisted though—it’s absolutely better than most modern mainstream country, but not by much. Funnily enough, this track falls into a similar trap as that genre: woeful lack of innovation. “All Sales Final” is sloppy and a bit generic in a similar sense, but at least somewhat endearing.
The second half of the project begins with “Absolution,” one of the better tracks on the project. It’s vastness and Foster’s elongated vocal lines make for a compelling track that recalls image of road trips, Americana and sunny days. “Write the Letters” and “Fields of Grass” fulfill a similar role with slightly less success. “Take You Over” is a welcome return to the openly emotional exuberance of tracks like “White Pine County.” Sunday State are at their lyrical best. The bass solo transition into the back half of the song is very cool.
The album concludes with a two-step stumble across the finish in the form of “Union Motel” and “Picture Your Audience.” For most of its runtime, “Union Motel” taps into the band’s best qualities; primarily, bar crawl sing-a-long energy and detailed storytelling. Unfortunately, that song ends in messy musical disaster, and “Picture Your Audience” does little to tie up those loose ends. It’s sparing, gorgeous and delicate at moments, but at less than two minutes and with subpar lyrics for this band, it just feels unfinished.
Sunday State have the pieces. They could produce a great album, but Sunday State is, unfortunately, not that album. The cool part about this project, though, is that Foster and Carothers did successfully prove that they can set themselves apart. The endearing messiness of some of these is worth further exploring, and if the pair lean into that corner of their sound, they’ll have a long career ahead of them.