Ashes Grammar by A Sunny Day in Glasgow remains one of my favorite records of recent years. Its heady, swirling mix of shoegaze, synth-pop, and dream pop was a welcome alternative to the legions of shoegaze bands haplessly trying to re-create Loveless (or, more likely, trying to re-create Slowdive’s Souvlaki). Nothing about the band explicitly defined them as… well, anything. Thus, it was a real shame when the band disappeared, for all intents and purposes. Not a peep was heard from them for four years after 2010’s Autumn, Again. After staying silent for so long, it’s only fitting that the band’s latest collection of new music would be brasher and louder than ever before, and that’s exactly what we get with Sea When Absent. While the album is disjointed at points, it’s a thrilling, welcome return from a band with a unique voice.
A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s early work strayed on the dreamier side of things, but Sea When Absent announces itself fairly early on with the fuzzy “Bye Bye Big Ocean (The End)”. The song is indicative of what happens on the album in a number of ways; while the percussion and fuzzed-out guitar are certainly representative, they also serve to mask the band’s core. Things may appear different for A Sunny Day in Glasgow, but underneath the layers of sound that they pile on their songs, they’re still the same incredibly gifted indie-pop songwriters that we know and enjoy. Even better in this regard is “In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing)”, easily the most effective mix of these ideas. Singers Jen Goma and Anna Fredericksen shine here especially, giving the songs two hooks an even greater heft.
“Useless” is indicative of a surprising shift in A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s style as laid out on Sea When Absent: The band now seem to have a clearer and more focused take on lyrics. While nothing on the album could quite strike anyone as “poetry”, the group’s words are sharper than they have been before, especially considering the trend in shoegaze and dream-pop for bare-bones lyrics. Typically, bands like this would express things in the most basic of lyrical terms while letting the sounds around the words fill in details, but A Sunny Day in Glasgow take things further on Sea When Absent with lyrics built around coherent thoughts and ideas, words clearly meant to be paid attention to, rather than just accents. Given that this is the first ASDIG album that pushes the vocals high in the mix, it’s certainly better that they have something to say this time out.
It’s hard to say whether Sea When Absent is definitively the best A Sunny Day in Glasgow album; for all the band’s talk of wanting to make a rock album, I personally feel that the ambient soundscapes of their earlier work are a better fit. Still, the fact that they’re willing to make this much of a creative leap forward is incredibly encouraging, and moments of the album are as thrilling and fascinating as anything the band has ever done. Even with the louder, harsher mix, ASDIG retain much of their dream-pop core, making for a rewarding listening experience.