The Ex-Optimists/A Sundae Drive, “Burn Bright”/”Labor Day”
It’s always nice when you see your high expectations for something get validated; that’s the way I feel about the brand-new split-7″ from two of my favorite damn bands from this great state or any other, The Ex-Optimists and A Sundae Drive. When I first got word that this was underway, I was a little bemused — the two didn’t seem to necessarily fit all that well together, with the College Station-living Ex-Optimists generally rolling in a ‘hood that’s heavier and more “rock” than the shoegazer-y A Sundae Drive folks.
Really, aside from the fact that the members of both bands are truly, truly cool people, I wasn’t sure how well their respective sounds would mesh together. Would the split come off like a weird, mismatched jumble? How would it work, given the differences between the two?
Pretty damn well, as it turns out. I’m not sure if it was intentional or not, but both tracks on here dwell in the same general musical universe, kind of a dark, murky realm that’s equally informed by ’90s-ish indie-rock and fuzzed-out dreampop drone. On the Ex-Optimists side, “Burn Bright” is shiny and wavery, with guitars that bend and warp like My Bloody Valentine, shudder and shake like Sebadoh’s less-frantic moments, stab and scrape like Jawbox (think “Desert Sea,” in particular), and drive the melody straight into your skull like Superchunk.
Vocally speaking, I keep thinking of Silversun Pickups, but there’s also a substantial resemblance to Pavement’s Stephen Malkmus, at least to my ears. That is to say, the band assimilates and mashes together all of my favorite ’90s bands and lights the whole thing on fire.
For the other side, I’ve been eagerly awaiting A Sundae Drive’s forthcoming full-length (I think?) for quite a while now — pretty much since the release of the band’s 2011 debut, the excellent You’re Gonna Get Me EP — and although this isn’t that, hell, I’m happy to be able to hear this little taste of what the ASD folks have been doing these past three years(!).
“Labor Day” turns out to be the true surprise of the release, all shadows and menace and ’80s alternapop vibes; as it steadily, unrelentingly chugs along, there’s an underlying threat to it all, a feeling of foreboding like something very bad’s about to happen. Singer/bassist Jen Gray croons and snarls like a jilted lover swearing revenge, and when she declares “You’re in my crosshairs now,” it’s hard to resist the urge to duck from some unseen assailant.
The whispered vocals lurking way, way in the background makes it even better, and lends the whole thing a cool, cool Dirty-era Sonic Youth feel. If you’re at all familiar with ASD, by the way, that may sound pretty odd, a far cry from the friendlier, fuzzier, dreampop-ier tunes on You’re Gonna Get Me — trust me, though, it works. I’m not sure if this is really the direction the band’s going with the gonna-be-great full-length, but it promises to be very interesting.
Oh, and I love, love, love the artwork the Sinkhole Texas folks put together for this release. The image of Chewbacca carrying C3PO up the side of the building, King Kong-style, while TIE fighters swoop down is utterly great (any chance of getting that on a T-shirt, you guys? or does that too much risk the Wrath of Lucas?), as is the depiction of the Millennium Falcon being captured by a giant space squid.
So there you go; this 7″ is one of those quirky, one-in-a-million moments when two seemingly disparate bands come together to form something that’s maybe different from what they usually do but which is totally freaking great anyway. And that’s a beautiful thing.