A Sundae Drive, The Senseless & The Sound
Midway through listening to A Sundae Drive’s most recent full-length, the followup to 2011’s excellent, You’re Gonna Get Me, it hit me just how, well, how dark it is. There’s a murky, bitter edge to the band’s sound on here, despite the seemingly cheery pop melodies they seed throughout. If you listen close to the lyrics, too, you get the feeling that the band’s angrier and more grim than you’d expect them to.
A Sundae Drive drop the first hints on “T-Shirt of the Year,” which is gentle but insistent, a jangly, drone-heavy chunk of midtempo indie-rock with frontman Zeek Garcia seemingly telling some unspecified person at whom the song happens to be directed that he’s not going to do some nebulous thing they’re asking him to do.
Following that is the fuzzier, messier “Here”; it’s nicely propulsive, with a great, fuzzed-out, Superdrag-esque main riff, and makes me think of what Weezer might sound like if they tried their hand at shoegaze. Even with the bright, fuzzy melodies and crunchy chunks of feedback, though, that darkness remains, with Garcia declaring simply, “Everything’s fucked.”
Then there’s “Laissez Tomber,” which is one hell of a multiple-personality disorder of a song. The first half is hazy and slow-moving and deliberate and melancholy, with bassist/vocalist Jennifer Gray-Garcia’s languid, almost sinister vocals over the top. It’s elegaic and somber, literally funereal (she’s singing about a funeral) ’til the midpoint of the song, at which point it abruptly shifts into driving indie-pop a la Palomar, albeit with lyrics that are all in French. (Before you ask: yes, I believe Gray-Garcia does actually teach French at her day job, although I may be misremembering.)
“Until We Fall” breaks the mood a bit, a tightly-wound but still somehow rootsy-sounding slice of jangly, cheery, speeding indie-rock that makes me think of Sebadoh at their absolute best, but it doesn’t last, because then “Vague Like a Fever” steps in. It’s bouncy, but still downcast, meandering along in a moody, nostalgic way as Garcia tries to look backwards and realizes he can’t ever get back there.
After that, the band downshifts into “Hard Candy,” which is delicate and fragile, almost distant-sounding; more than anything, the song’s quiet elegance makes me think of Canadian band Ketch Harbour Wolves, and from me that’s no small praise.
Interestingly, it’s in the second half of The Senseless and the Sound where A Sundae Drive seems to shake its collective self and get angry enough to actually step up and fight whatever it is the band is facing. The first track in that second part, “Covet Lounge,” kicks things off with a nicely ’90s-ish buzzing crunch and turns out to be one of the louder tracks on the disc, but it’s really just a lead-in to “Intensive Propoises,” which comes roaring in all rough-edged and raw like something by Grady or the Hell City Kings, maybe. It’s rootsy but heavy, and raggedy and bluesy and awesome, to boot.
Along similar lines, there’s “Ten Night Us,” which is gorgeously heavy, spacey dreampop, like a seriously Americanized Jesus and Mary Chain, and “Where You’ve Never Been,” overfuzzed and noisy (and great), with a guitar sound J. Mascis wouldn’t mind having. “The Escape” is a bit quieter, moody and thoughtful, and apparently it’s about escaping the life you’ve grown sick of and reinventing yourself someplace else.
The Senseless and the Sound comes to an end with “Reconjugated,” which sees the rest of the band move backwards and Gray-Garcia step up into the spotlight, where it’s just her and a piano. It’s amazingly somber but beautiful at the same time, and the loss Gray-Garcia is feeling — whether it’s a loved one leaving town or passing away, I can’t tell — a sits so close to the surface it’s practically bleeding out.
By the song’s close, Gray-Garcia’s realized she in spite of all the pain and anxiousness, she has to take a deep breath and just keep things together, singing, “And no matter what / it’ll be okay / I’ve gotta tell myself / it’ll be okay.” After all, sometimes hanging on is all you can really do.