The Innocence Mission Soldiers on, Quiet As Ever
The Innocence Mission continue to sew together a fragile mix of soft instrumentation and unintelligible lyrics on Sun on the Square.
Sun on the Square
The Innocence Mission
29 June 2018
The Innocence Mission have been operating on a small scale for the last 19 years, meaning that by the arrival of Sun on the Square, this occasionally augmented trio has their approach pretty much nailed down. Karen Peris writes the songs and sings them, her spouse Don Peris makes them sound nice with lots of extra bits and pieces, and Mike Bitts provides a bass line when needed. For Sun on the Square, two more members of the Peris family, Anna and Drew, contribute viola and violin respectively on four of the album's ten tracks.
Early on in their existence, the Innocence Mission were lazily compared to 10,000 Maniacs and the Sundays. Fast forward a solid 25 years later, and they seem to share even less in common with those two bands than they initially did. Sun on the Square is minimal chamber pop, ten songs that need very little more than their melody and a bare-bones accompaniment to keep them afloat. They sound neither dated nor ahead of their time, giving the listener a chance to feel nostalgic for a time or place that never occurred in their lives.
The music isn't what anyone would call edgy. Its dynamic range spends most of the album's runtime cruising at a low hum, letting some percussion pierce the quiet only once in a great while. Karen Peris' voice is pure yet disaffected, rendering the deeper meanings of her lyrics just too obscure to comprehend fully. She stated that she wanted to explore the "admiration for someone going out into the world bravely and in kindness, the possibility for one person to be a light in the world- that love will prevail over fear". But when your goals are that lofty, you best enunciate. Her mush-mouthed performance of "Buildings in Flower" imparts no feelings or braveness or kindness -- just a straining of the ear coupled with a "...what?"
The occasional phrase breaks through once in a while: "The kindness of strangers", "light on the faces", "into the hour", "and what could I bring you, today in the meantime?" Most everything else is a slur and blur of soft consonants. Don Peris takes the mic for "Star of Land and Sea", giving just a touch more clarity to the lyric sheet: "Be a light to all, you shine / Into darker lands, you shine." The arrangement of each song is beyond delicate as if a sudden breeze could knock it all down. The foundations of most are what sounds like a nylon string guitar with piano and electric guitars demoted to sparse, ornamental roles. Sun on the Square's lone single "Green Bus" is the only selection to switch up the meter to waltz time.
Sun on the Square's greatest strengths are Karen Peris's vocal melodies. After repeated listens, they have a pleasant way of nestling into your brain, regardless of the lyrical content. After all, when you're armed with lines like "I imagine us, I can see us in the green air," they had better.