Following the pleasant surprise of the Talking in the Dark debut EP release in 2002, I eagerly awaited the release of Sukilove‘s first full-length album. Belgium’s Pascal Deweze showed me charm and smarts and amiable folksy pop that time around; the good news is he’s only gotten smarter and more charming in the interim. Given the forum of a full CD, he goes against the grain of the commercial marketplace and instead serves up a baker’s dozen worth of uniquely mature and melodic songs that largely take their sweet time expressing their subtle nuances.
Sukilove is Pascal Deweze (the same one who is half of the Chitlin’ Fooks), along with Stoffel Verlackt (drums, percussion, vocals, piano, horn arrangements), Pieter Van Buyten (bass), and Helder Deploige (electric guitars, vocals). The talented Deweze sings and plays a number of instruments as well (acoustic and electric guitar, piano, bass, accordion, organ, and percussion).
The album opens (ironically) with a poignant track entitled “Time to Go”, all about those restless urges that send one out the door and on one’s way, half wanderlust, half simply knowing things have run their course and it’s time: “And in the end, what else does remain but saying: goodbye, God bless / And whatever you do, do it well and who knows someday / It’s time to say hello, again”.
Next up is the ballad “Hang On”, a lovely bit of optimistic advice to a friend who’s not on such sure footing: “Now the earth’s rotating backwards and your shoes don’t fit your soul / We all stumble in our darkness ‘cos somehow the light never came through—but if you could turn them on, oh—you’d find me stumbling next to you hang on”. It builds to a crescendo of noise (à la “A Day in the Life”) to reflect the craziness and fears, then ends softly, if not overly happily (“No one’s gonna hold you when you’re all gone”).
“Shame You Never Worry” is Deweze’s ultra-cool anthem invoking film noir imagery, and sounding like a distant cousin to some Tom Waits composition circa Rain Dogs. This is masterful, sleazy (in the best possible way), and again, savvy and clever: “I’m gonna love you ‘til you lose the flavor / So never think I really care / Skyscrapers scrape for a reason, call on me I’ll be there”. Deweze mixes it up perfectly near the song’s end with some countering musical phrases.
Sukilove is heavy on atmosphere and again, I get a strong film noir feel as Deweze croons his way through the confessional love ballad “Unforgivable”. “Please Don’t Ever Change” is another sweet and soulful slow-tempo melody, made even better by more clever lyrics.
Sukilove never runs short of pretty melodies. “Computing Beauty” is a fine example of this—a loving tale of one who finds the most beautiful, sweetest girl, yet she remains sadly out of reach. “Just A Lazy Day” is merely that: a short sweet acoustic bit about doing absolutely nothing.
One of my favorites on this new collection (hard for me to pick just one) is the majestic “As Long As I Survive Tonight”. This well-arranged tune lists in its verses all the problems that beset the singer, yet ultimately, we’re told all’s “gonna be alright”. This heartening assurance chorus (even if it’s only an empty promise) really balances everything else. Deweze again manages to make pretty music that has weight to it.
Reprised from last year’s EP is the great “Talking in the Dark,” which escalates from simple folk confession into full-bodied pop complete with string accompaniment. As I said before, this is love music with a smirk on its face, cryptic and charming all at once.
There are musical nuances throughout, expert little snippets of instruments and sounds that adorn the simplest songs and lend them additional grace and elegance. Some of these seem like little symphonies—songs with complex structures and intriguing builds and middle sections.
For example, the longest song is the one with the shortest lyric, asking that musical question “Did You Ever Feel So Lonely?” The question is repeated again and again, rhetorically—no need for an answer—then the music takes over into a structured chaos before the quiet question returns.
On several songs, Deweze’s tenor sounds a lot like Glenn Tilbrook’s. This is especially so on the bluesy “Man (ain’t man enough)”, which could fit comfortably on any latter Squeeze album.
The blues feel continues with “There’s A Light”, a slow, doleful, unfolding revelation about missing a certain woman: “It’s not the coming home I miss the most / It’s the everyday, simple things you do / Because my thoughtlessness never killed no man / But I’m not so sure about you”.
This fine collection closes with “Good Blood Will Prevail”, a short acoustic bittersweet song (Deweze’s own “Goodbye Norma Jean”) about death and leaving and advising the young to grab their fun while they can.
While these songs are slow-paced and smart (and decidedly non-commercial as a result), they are well worth your while. Deweze has a knack for pretty melodies (like McCartney) and can write stunning lyrics that really touch both heart and mind. Sukilove manages the feat of approaching the same old topics from new and interesting angles, and pulls off the even tougher task of taking sadness and making it optimistic and somehow uplifting. This isn’t easy music, but it’s easily some of the finest new song craft to be found. Take the time to discover the subtle pleasures of Sukilove and you’ll be glad you did.
// Notes from the Road
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