Walls of thick, feedback-laden guitars. Lazy, meandering rhythms that sometimes build, other times simply ebb and flow. Distant, half-buried vocals that drift along on a melody. Space rock tones that are both atmospheric and psychedelic.
No, it’s not a generic description of early ‘90s shoegazer bands, it’s the music of thoroughly contemporary Suntan. But one listen to the Boston outfit’s debut full-length, Send You Home, and you may feel like you’ve turned back the clock a decade or so. In fact, you might think you’ve been teleported to an old Spiritualized show, as Suntan carry that sun-bleached, acid-streak shoegazer sound squarely on its shoulders, accenting with slight shades of My Bloody Valentine, early Stone Roses, and the slow-and-thick tracks by Low. If Suntan, for the most part, eschew the poppier directions taken by groups like Lush and Kitchens of Distinction, they certainly know how to wrap themselves up in the Spacemen 3/Spiritualized-like psychedelic overload rock flag.
Suntan immediately lay their plan out on the opening track, “Rising for You”. Like the song’s title, the track builds slowly, rising from spare, lonely guitars, adding a languid dirge-like beat and an organ drone that trips a buzzing melody, and then, more than a minute into the song, vocalist Nick Holdzkom’s dreamy, laconic voice finally chimes in with the appropriately high-sounding lyrics. The track swells up, gradually becoming more and more insistent, until the various instruments and effects reach that Phil Spector-approved level of totality that much of the shoegazers strove for. At seven-and-a-half minutes, the weight of the song eventually overwhelms the listener, and all you can do is roll with it. And this is just the foundation, preparation for more of the same on the next track, the nearly 10-minute “The Next Ones”.
Thankfully, Suntan know to change things up enough to keep it bearable, slipping in a dirty, garage-toned cover of Them’s “I Can Only Give You Everything”. The shift to a more straightforward rock track reels you back in and once more grabs your attention with something to focus on. But a brief interlude track later, and Suntan are ready to return to the aural assault that they perform so well. “King Felix” and “Every Night” are as spacey and dramatic and huge as the first two songs, and only when the band reach the final and title track, an epic 13-minute number broken up into three movements (“Driver / Ghost Rites / Home”), do they downshift a bit and allow some actual space into their space rock.
The “problem” with reviving a style like shoegazer rock is that, despite some critical praise and some dedicated followers, it never really caught on too big in the first place. Sure, Spiritualized managed to hang in there, even if Jason Pierce basically fired the rest of the band, but you could hardly accuse it of being a hit-maker. However, this just makes a band like Suntan all the more enjoyable. There’s very little sense that they’re here to mine some retro dollars out of nostalgia. This is just the music that they enjoy to play, and they do it well. Send You Home is an impressive, weighty, dense album of soupy guitar rock that’s just blissed-out enough to not be overly serious and competent enough to take seriously. Suntan have definitely landed on a formula that works, time-warp or not.