Album Review: Hold/Still – Suuns

suunsOn their new album, Hold/Still, Suuns take darkness as their muse, filtering their post-punk creations through a dimly-lit room with industrial electronics and distorted rock grooves delivering heavy punches on the listener.  The whole album finds uniqueness in its ability to combine dense production tactics with unpredictable songwriting.  Certain moments value building tension as synthesizers crackle with distortion highlighting the driving beats.  Rather than sending the subdued tension into the territory of raging, guitar-heavy choruses, the band seeks contrast in their ability to create visceral atmospheres for their lead singer’s enlightening falsetto.  The band effortlessly combines guitar-based rock music with sounds of Montreal’s underground resulting in one of the most interesting contemporary releases of the first half of the year.

Beginning with disjointed guitar distortion, album opener “Fall” quickly transitions into pummeling percussive punches.  These punches end eventually yielding the main focus of the song back to the disjointed guitar articulations only to return more furiously later on in the song.  “Fall” serves as a shock to the system, instantly encapsulating the audience in Suuns’ world by building layers upon layers of music resulting in a huge mass of sound.  The album leaves the destructive intentions of “Fall” in its follow-up, “Instrument,” instead seeking sensuality through the use of a wavering, dance-able bassline.  Lead singer Ben Shemie dismisses his outgoing vocalizations instead seeking grittiness in his teeth clenching snarl with each lyric growing in intensity without growing in volume.  Through each of these songs the band displays its ability to manipulate tension in many different ways in their darkly tinged soundscape.  Not only does the band create tension by amassing a wall of sound, they also continuously heighten tension with dynamic vocal delivery.

Lyrically, the album remains non-specific, painting emotionally dense pictures rather than intricately weaved plotlines.  On “Resistance,” Shemie repeats the song’s title obsessively throughout the verses finding more contradiction in the chorus: “I wanna Change, I wanna feel new.”  This line fits the mold crafted by the instrumental part by as the confident resilience employed in the driving guitar part breaks into ambiance just before Shemie shows doubt in his resistance.  Another example of the band’s lyrical conception is found on “Mortise and Tension,” where Shemie remains perplexing using words purely as a source of emotional affect. “Salt under your skin I can’t taste a thing yeah foaming at the mouth” serves as a strange string of words making a connection between salt water and foaming waves in relation to the human body.  Although the album avoids lyrical specificity, the affectual nature of the words tie into the contemporary song structures.

The second half of the album includes some of the band’s longer songs displaying their ability to play with space.  “Brainwash” obtains a loosely composed structure through its direct contrast between spacy guitar playing and punching, electronic quarter notes.  This song never becomes dense texturally as the two different sounds fully consume the sound space trading back and forth for the whole song.  On “Careful,” swelling synthesizer sounds are highlighted by minimalist drum articulations and strongly reverberated vocals before a more defined groove strikes around the five minute mark carrying on the song for another two minutes.  By extending the song length beyond the four minute mark indicative of the first half of the album, Suuns showcase versatility, which helps the album maintain intrigue from beginning to end.

Hold/Still is a fantastic contemporary rock album.  By using unpredictable song structures in an industrial electronic setting, Suuns remain viciously modern despite the historically rooted collection of instruments. Also, the band achieves continuity by applying its unique approach to sound to its lyricism.

-Review by Donovan Burtan