The Drop Beneath, the third album from Virginia trio Eternal Summers is an easy album to like on the surface: it was produced by Doug Gillard (ex of Guided By Voices; he has recently joined Nada Surf), and he is such a particularly great musician that there’s a moment during the guitar solo of “A Burial” where you could swear it’s him playing because it’s in his signature chiming jangle-rock style. There’s a certain dream poppiness and a toughening of sound that makes The Drop Beneath sound, at times, like a mutant cross between My Bloody Valentine and the Cure, the latter being particularly evident in the barbed wire guitars and thudding low end. There’s even a song here titled “Never Enough”, which, of course, shares a song title with a single by Robert Smith’s group. So there’s a great deal to stand up and take notice of.
While previous efforts are said to be innocent and full of pining for first loves, The Drop Beneath makes it clear that the band is ready to leave childhood or adolescence behind with a strengthening of purpose; there’s a real sense of maturity on this disc. Vocalist Nicole Yun practically howls “You could take all your aggression and break me / Break me in two” on song “Make It New”. As well, this is a band that feels like it has a great deal to establish this time out—in fact, the album appears to have been at least partially financed by crowdfunded efforts—and the very first words that you hear on this disc are, “Prove yourself if you want to.” It’s clear that Eternal Summers do want to prove themselves here as there’s a great range of styles that the band brings to the table this time out, from the lilting male vocal led Sundays-soundalike “Not for This One”, to the dreamy gauze of “Capture”, which features backing vocals that share the same harmonics as a good Fleetwood Mac tune, to the ‘60s girl group sounds of ballad “Until the Day I Have Won”. Yun has described the music in an interview as “a cock-eyed fusion of pretty pop and heavy rock,” and while the album doesn’t express a particular heaviness, there is sturdiness to many of these songs that make Eternal Summers a group to keep an eye on.
The group is unafraid to get jammy on the title track, the final song and one of the record’s highlights, as it runs for more than seven minutes, and its glassy guitar work and memorable riffage give it a shoegazey sheen with an ending that exits on a pillage of noisy guitar feedback and drone. It’s a monumental song, and it sticks with the listener well after the final fade out. You may just find yourself replaying the track in your head as you go about whatever business you have after playing this album. So its payoff is huge, and, if the last song of an album is said to be indicative of where a group goes from here, I wouldn’t be surprised if Eternal Summers goes even harder and fuller next time out. It’d be all part of an interesting evolution for the band. But there are other highlights to be had, particularly in the front half of the record. “A Burial” establishes itself as a crunching and punishing bit of hard edged dream pop. Follow-up song “Gouge” might just be the most Cure-influenced moment on the album, with the guitars given the same tonality of purpose as said band. And “Keep Me Away” is a lilting ballad that makes Yun’s vocals sound like a purr.
However, there are a few weaknesses. “Until the Day I Have Won” doesn’t stick in a manner that you would expect, and the result seems rather fillerish and meant to pad out an already seemingly long record at 11 tracks. And “Make It New”, a haunting and troubling song, doesn’t seem to fit well with the rest of the album, being more Pornography than Kiss Me, Kiss Me, Kiss Me. Those sidesteps aside, The Drop Beneath is a balm of an album that showcases the fact that this band can swiftly switch gears and, you know, grow up a little. Repeated listenings also reap great rewards: seemingly ordinary songs are given new meaning and purpose when you hear them stacked back to back. There’s a great deal here that is memorable, accented by Gillard’s jangle pop sensibilities and deft production. So what we have with The Drop Beneath is a solid and engrossing affair for the most part. This is an LP that merits liberal use of the repeat button, and, even when it occasionally misfires, there’s always something interesting just around the corner, a fact that makes The Drop Beneath one of the most endearing albums to come out in the early part of 2014.