Before we get to the new Suckers album, let’s run down a quick list of overused adjectives that get thrown around a lot in reviews. You know, words like psychedelic, dreamy, blissed-out, druggy, expansive, lush, and so on. You get the idea. These terms get used, sometimes, because they’re useful keywords that give a quick insight into what you might expect from an artist. But they’re also sometimes used—and I’ve done this, admittedly—in place of really figuring out what’s going on with a band’s sound. They’re used because what the band does is slippery, and rather than spending 500 words tracing a sound back to its disparate roots, we go with a quick phrase. It may be economical, but it’s also, let’s admit it, a bit lazy.
This all comes up because, well, Suckers are damned slippery. Wild Smile, their first full-length record, denies easy summary or genre tags. It’s hard to pin any of those adjectives on these guys. And yet they are the words that came to mind as I listened to the record over and over again. Why? Because Wild Smile is awfully good, but it’s really hard to explain what makes it that way.
There are a few things that stick out about Suckers, though, on this record. The first is that these guys are songwriters. It sounds simple, sure, but what these guys achieve on Wild Smile is no small feat. They craft eleven distinct and catchy songs. Each track has its own feel, and yet as a whole they come together nicely into a cohesive, arresting musical world.
And while that world has walls around it, they are far off in the distance. The rhythm section on Wild Smile is downright stunning, both grounding these lofty songs and giving them the space to roam. The drums can clang away on “Roman Candles”, loosening up the track, or tighten up on songs like “Black Sheep” to reign in the wandering keys. The bass rumbles subtly on “You Can Keep Me Running Around” or snaps off notes on “Martha” to fill the space between those thundering drums and the high plink of the guitars. The combination of the barreling rhythm section, the spiraling high-on-the-neck guitar riffs, and the layers of vocal melodies—with all the echo and space around them—could be mistaken for something hazy and impressionistic.
If Wild Smile were just that, they’d have a decent record on their hands. But if you live with this record awhile, you’ll find that is a clear-eyed and carefully constructed set of songs. They don’t rest on blurry sound, like so many lesser bands would. Is there reverb and gauzy texture to all of this? Of course. But the sharp riffs of “Before Your Birthday Ends” and the arresting melodies of “A Mind I Knew” cut through the atmosphere rather than hiding behind it.
Above all that, though, the band has a secret weapon: frontman Quinn Walker. What ultimately separates Suckers from a lot of other new bands is their undeniable energy. Instead of resting lazily on atmosphere, and meshing his voice in with all these tangling sounds, Walker brings a circus hawker’s wild-eyed zeal to these tracks, not to mention something close to vocal schizophrenia. He goes from lilting croon to quick-fire yelp on “King of Snakes”, baits us with an unassuming mumble on “Save Your Love For Me” before unleashing an unworldly falsetto, and holds onto a smoother version of that falsetto for the soul-jam of “Before Your Birthday Ends”. It also helps that, along with his crazed energy, Walker lacks even a hint of self-seriousness. In fact, he may test you with that ultimately campy vocal delivery on “Before Your Birthday Ends”, or with the whistling into to “Roman Candles”, which may remind you of the closing scene of Full Metal Jacket both in how silly and unsettling it is.
But therein lies the charm of Suckers. They are a tight-as-hell band with an original and arresting sound, but they’d rather stomp their feet than stare at their navels. I don’t know what to call the sound they find on Wild Smile, and I don’t always know what to make of its goofier moments. That, though, is exactly what makes it such a compelling record. Whatever you call it, whatever title you try and stick this unruly, wonderful album under doesn’t matter. Because the name you give it has nothing to do with how, come album closer “Loose Change”, you’ll be singing and clapping along with the rest of your band. And that thing on your face while you do it? I believe they titled the album after that.
// Notes from the Road
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