Static & Silence
Out of the public and into the private was a much-needed move by the Sundays, who, during the last stages of a world-wide tour five years ago, called it quits, packed up, and silently went home. You get the impression that the Sundays never intended to have the kind of success that they have had. Fame sort of found them. It is a meeting that the group has been adjusting to since 1988, where at their first live show, something unexpected happened — the quiet, melancholic couple were descended upon by the music industry. After subsequent accolades in some of England’s top music rags, they were signed to Rough Trade. Their first album, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic (1990) went gold in the US as well as the UK. After a follow-up album, Blind, and a lot of touring, the group vanished from the public eye amidst rumors of a break-up.
The newly-released Static & Silence is the first squeak from the Sundays in five years, and though they have been silent, they have hardly been static. The time away has given Harriet Wheeler, vocals, and David Gavurin, guitar, a couple of 14 years, the desired time to tend to more personal affairs. They gave birth to a baby girl. They spent time with the important people in their life. And they built a home studio in which Static & Silence was recorded.
“We’d never particularly enjoyed performing in a studio. Live gigs are one thing, with adrenaline flowing and an audience in front of you. But, 11:00 in the morning in front of a row of faces in the control room is another thing altogether,” Gavurin explains.
This time, instead of having to deal with a recording budget dictated by the record company, the Sundays set their own pace, which allowed a lot more experimentation than on their previous two albums and ultimately, a more intimate album — one that reflects the interiority of a life agreeable on the surface, but layered with tones of pointed sadness.
Varying levels are as prevalent in the music as they are in the emotions. Gavurin, who, in the past has been likened to ex-Smiths guitarist, Johnny Marr, is still living up to the comparison. Like Marr, he stacks guitar track upon guitar track, creating such rhythmical progressions that the need for percussion is almost negated. His playing is rich with layers of strumming, full sustained chords, and subtle recurring background riffs. His use of distortion, wah-wah and other effects creates a gentle, murky depth that is far more intricate than anything The Sundays have done in the past.
Rising above all of this are Wheeler’s lithe melodies that move easily across the heights and depths of the musical terrain. It is Wheeler who saves the Sundays from an overriding sense of gloom, and manages to give seemingly simple lines like “it’s you and me in the summertime/ we’ll be hand in hand down in the park” a sense of emotional ambiguity, a contented regret, that is neither depressive nor bubbly.
It is such emotion, this pensive sobriety, that characterizes the moodiness of the album. The lyrics leave the constant impression of having both eyes turned to the past, having watched cities and people change, move on and disappear, while standing comfortably in moments of the present where “you can turn around and like where you are.
Like the band who recorded the album at their own pace, the album itself tends to move slowly — seemingly more concerned with living than becoming. “Summertime,” the single, is one of the few tracks with a memorable melody. Most of the other tunes tend to flow more lazily, and tempos throughout the album remain roughly the same. Combined with the sometimes heavy voice of confession, boredom is at times only barely staved off.
But, the album is not so much about entertaining for the sake of killing time as it is with the reflection of times that have been long dead. Static & Silence is a personal album, an entrance into the sleepy memories and black and white photographs of a life that is palpable and pensive. It is unpretentious, and no matter how somber at times, every song on the album radiates with a sincere warmth.
Though the Sundays haven’t pulled off anything brilliant or even new after a five-year hope that they would, Static & Silence is nonetheless an impressionable album and a worthy remedy to so much of the spicy veneer and kitsch that has been released within the last half a decade.