[5 August 2012]
SPIN recently ran a feature declaring that we’re in an era of New Hardcore, which somehow sounds a lot like the old hardcore, filled with the same type of angry riffs and primal screams that you could hear Black Flag make circa 1984. All that is just fine, but what makes Sundowning, the new Nu Sensae album, really terrific is that it takes all the best parts of punk revivalism and matches them, when necessary, a totally different—and more popular—recent revivalism, the washed out, sunny sound that you can hear on a Dum Dum Girls record.
Of course, that’s only when lead singer/bassist Andrea Lukic feels like it. Be sure, this is a punk outfit through and through, but on a track like “100 Shades”, with Lukic alternating between dreams and screams, you see a band taking the Batman Approach: The more tools on your utility belt, the better things will be. Neither vocal style stops the song’s jetpack propulsion. It’s an angrier form of the loud-quiet songs The Pixies did, with lyrics spilling out of Lukic at an uncontrollable speed. It’s telling that EMA picked Nu Sensae to open for her on her latest tour: like Erika M. Anderson, the Vancounverite trio meets any feelings of safety in their music with a threat of danger and panic that feels very real. The loud-quiet style turns a bullet train into a rollercoaster.
Brody McKnight’s guitars pound all over Sundowning, and the adding of the instrument, the expansion from duo to trio, feels like natural growth from earlier tracks “Graceland” or “Don’t Panic”. But one of the eternal joys of being both the bass player and a lead singer must be that can you make the bass as loud as you want. Lukic’s instrument still shines on tracks like “Tyjna”, a track, where, coincidentally, Daniel Pitout’s drums have a machine-gun rattle. The whole album is marked by a pure, intense, feel, and Lukic’s vocals don’t need to be understood to hit you in your gut.
There’s a cohesion here that rarely seen on punk albums, which often jump from peak to peak. But take a track like “Tea Swamp Park”, which calls to mind a swamp ghost haunting a pack of horses who dig shoegaze, it sucks you in, and before you know it, you’re in the midst of “Whispering Rule”, a rumbling cacophony of drums, guitars and, I think, hatred for the sin of gossip (“On the stoop they’re talking/you’ll burn your eyes if you look that way” are the only lyrics I feel confident in transcribing from the song). Four-and-a-half minutes later, you’re swept out with guitars mimicking bells and into “Spit Gifting”, where Lukic’s come-ons to the listener (the only ones on the album) are couched in phrases like “Let’s burn my room!” and “Destroy!”. Sundowning has its twists and turns, but they always utilize what the Vancouver trio does best: walls of sound meeting the vivid clarity of punk rock.
The added dimensions don’t always work: “Dust”, in particular, feels weighed down by the guitars and slowed down by the softer voice. And the sonic parity in the album seems to drown any chances for a breakaway hit, although “100 Shades” and Sonic Youth-influenced ender “Eat Your Mind” come close. But even the missteps on Sundowning feel like growing pains, things to make you eagerly await their next release or live show. Nu Sensae has already figured out the trick that someone like Ye Olde Rocke God Greg Ginn knew, that the more influences you bring into punk, the better it will be. Watching them bring that into reality should be a blast.