March 21, 2003

Guitar "Sunkissed"

I might as well get the most obvious reference point out of the way: this album does little more than pay homage to My Bloody Valentine's sophomore album Loveless. The fact that you're even reading this is cause to assume that you already know about Loveless, but in case you don't, STOP READING THIS AND BUY IT NOW, FOR CRYING OUT LOUD. It's a modern masterpiece of guitar-based music that, eleven years after its release, still slays ninety percent of the music being released today. MBV mastermind Kevin Shields' inability to produce a follow-up to this album has opened a window for two generations' worth of bands to produce infinitesimal variations on his trademark sound of pitch-imperfect distorted guitars and breathy post-orgasmic vocals.

Some bands, like Astrobrite, are simply content to remake MBV's more
aggressive debut Isn't Anything over and over. Others are more adventurous: the Swirlies' oblong song structures and quick time changes owe just as much to math-rock as they do to shoegaze, and Lenola weds Shields' whammy-bar tricks to low-fidelity psych-pop. Some bands push a particular element of Loveless to its extreme. "To Here Knows When," the album's fourth song, is the building block of Lovesliescrushing's entire discography, as that band strips away rhythm completely in order to concentrate on the oceanic guitar noise. On the opposite end, we have Guitar, who seems to favor the more danceable "Soon." The waves of guitar are still there, and they still sound more like currents of wind than electrified pieces of wood. However, they are slightly subordinate to the vocals and booming 4/4 beats. Of course, many critics have already dismissed Sunkissed as a derivative carbon copy of the MBV sound. To this, I say: "Well, freakin' DUH---so what's your point?" There are loads of listeners out there who don't feel that Shields truly pushed his sound to its limit with Loveless, and they will gladly listen to other people's attempts to finish the job that he started. I count myself as among these listeners, and I have an absolute blast listening to Sunkissed.

Yes, this record is definitely a case of style over substance, or sound over songs. The prominence of the vocals in the mix ends up unintentionally highlighting the lyrical shortcomings. The songs that Ayako Akashiba sings definitely have an ESL feel to them. Her idea of a chorus is "I breathe in breath deep/See sea, bee, and me/Honey bee, please be," and her thick accent makes the word "sunkissed" sound like "sun-kees." Because of such, this record will get on your nerves if you don't like anything Japanese or twee. A German lady named Regina Jannsen sings on three songs, but the closest that she comes to lyrical profundity is "How free can you be without being lonely?" Obviously, the lyrics aren't of Shakespearean quality, but I doubt that you'd get very profound insights from reading Kevin Shields' lyric sheets either. A more crucial drawback would be the fact that none of these songs have more than two chords. Say what you will about how MBV's guitars might make you nauseous, or about how indecipherable the lyrics are, but if you strip the half-million-dollar production from Loveless, you've still got a fine collection of pop songs with memorable chord progressions. Strip the production from Sunkissed and you basically have silence.

None of this will matter, though, once you press play and simply immerse yourself in the sonic bliss. "House Full of Time" and "Feel Flows Free" sound like first-rate outtakes from MBV's Glider EP. "Hot Sun Trail" sounds like a mash-up between a Loveless between-song interlude and an early-nineties club hit. "How So Bright of Universe" sports a beat that Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis would have killed to include on Janet Jackson's Rhythm Nation, and "Melt" has a stomping beat that sounds like Led Zeppelin's John Bonham gone IDM. "See Sea, Bee and Me" creates a wave of backwards percussion, guitar, and vocals that feels like the soundtrack to a steamy love scene in a movie whose reels have been flipped upside down. In short, this record not only manages to simulate the Shields sound impeccably, but it also will get your booty moving much faster than a thumbtack on a couch would. That counts for much more than most hipster critics are willing to admit.

---Sean Padilla

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