There’s two sides to the sound from Montreal’s Suuns on their new record, Zeroes QC, and the make themselves known right off the bat on opener “Armed for Peace”. Like the contradiction in the title, the song builds on two distinct, and disparate, feels. It starts with a blippy, groaning electronic beat that quietly, but ever so insistently, builds in intensity. Handclaps come in to add some human echo to the beat, high-hats hiss their way in until about the minute-and-a-half mark. Then, out of nowhere, a guitar attack bursts through the song. The riffs come, heavy with overdrive, notes spinning off the fret boards, and they hang on through the rest of the song, providing a moody, almost confrontational backdrop for singer Ben Shemie’s breathy vocals.
It’s an impressive moment, built as much on restraint as on bravado, and when Suuns are firing on all cylinders on Zeroes QC, that is the power they’re capable of. “Gaze” is the kind of muscled, brooding rock that Robert Smith would love, combining thick walls of distorted guitar with rattling synths to solid effect. Elsewhere, “Sweet Nothing” churns along for seven minutes with a krautrock stubbornness, while “Up Past the Nursery” breaks up the album’s straight-on, electronic propulsion with a beat that bounces more than it rumbles and guitars that drop muted riffs quietly into the mix. It’s the band at their strongest here, building tension in both the organic and electronic elements and not quite combining them so much as pitting them against each other and dropping us into the fray.
In other places, though, the two sides combine a little too nicely. “Arena”, for example, starts as warm electro-pop, and never quite builds past that. Even when guitars moan shapeless feedback over the beat late in the song, it feels like an unnecessary turn. It shows the band knows there needs to be something else there, which is good, but the fleeting squall doesn’t do quite enough work on the track. “PVC” has a nice, bouncing guitar riff, but the beat behind it is too simple, too thin to fight through the gauzy layers of guitar that build as the song goes. Closer “Organ Blues” tries a more haunting take on their two-sided sound, and comes close to pulling it off. The percussion is spare slaps and jangling, with Shemie’s voice wafting in with an affecting airy feel to it, but the faint squeals of guitar that work so well early on — to cut through the fog of organ working its way over the track — eventually builds to something too unruly. It’s a rare moment where they lose their restraint as, though it doesn’t totally throw the song off, it does interrupt an otherwise smartly constructed fever dream.
So, with two sides to bridge all the way through here — the organic with the electronic — Suuns presented itself with a tall order on Zeroes QC, and the results can be mixed as a result. Still, if you focus on the finer moments here — and, at the very least, “Armed for Peace” is a striking and unique rock song — there’s a lot of promise to glean from this record. Suuns take an interested angle on two elements that have been married plenty in the past, and sometimes it pays off, but as they go on, here’s hoping their compositions more consistently match up to their ambition.