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Sun Araw

Off Duty + Boat Trip

(Woodsist; US: 12 Oct 2010; UK: import)

Cameron Stallones, main man behind Sun Araw, is an outlier, even on left-field labels like Not Not Fun and Woodsist. Where nearly everyone else under the sun is using haze and psychedelia to make music that sounds melted, soft, something to ease into, Stallones is crafting huge, glitchy things. It’s hard to know if they’re even songs, since they feel more like experiences. Hearing this year’s On Patrol—all 75 dizzying minutes of it—was an exercise in blissful exhaustion. It didn’t wear you down into a dreamy chill-out; it pounded you down with dense layers, layers with sharp edges, with a make-you-flinch unpredictability.


The three songs that comprise Off Duty—coupled on the CD format with the two songs that make up the Boat Trip EP—might not catch you off guard quite as much. Perhaps that’s because of all the ground covered with On Patrol, but more likely it’s in the way these pieces take up space. The best sound here is, unsurprisingly, the biggest. “Deep Temple” seems both at home in its haunting, echoing rumble, and poised to burst out at any moment. Guitars ring out and ripple over each other—and you can head Stallones’s voice calling out from behind it all—but eventually the song erupts into a controlled but devastating chaos. The guitars storm, thick with wah-pedal effects, and Stallones somehow pulls off the impossible task of channeling mid-‘70s Miles Davis. It’s a staggering and effective feat, and a fitting goal for a guy who has taken these fringe sounds so far.


The other two Off Duty tracks—the fidgety static and rumble of “Last Chants” and the jungle-damp, sinister clang of “Mignight Locker”—don’t fare quite as well. They establish a chaotic, full sound, one that could go anywhere. In both cases, though, the songs tug fitfully at themselves, but never quite break free of their own inertia. They hint at Stallones’s unpredictability and sonic heft without quite fully realizing either.


The Boat Trip tracks serve as a compelling counterpoint to the slow burn of Off Duty. These songs have more holes in them; they’re cooler, and they stretch out like shadows of the feverish songs that came before them. They may lack the edge that sets Stallones’s music apart, but they mostly make up for it with a deep resonance. With Off Duty—and the included Boat Trip—Stallones reminds us of all the talents he put on display with On Patrol, and in the case of “Deep Temple”, gives us reason to get excited about him all over again. As a whole, however, it doesn’t quite push his sound forward. Of course, his sound is a pretty unique spot in American music right now, but with the EP format right here, an expansive act like Sun Araw feels like it’s just getting started, so the ripples this one leaves don’t stretch out quite as wide as they could.

Rating:

Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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