Suuns roll out Felt just under two years after their exceptional Hold/Still, which by their timetable to date may qualify as striking while the iron’s hot, and the variegated song cycle does well to keep the momentum they built going.
The Montreal band tend to come across as more future-focused than concerned with the past, but they kick off Felt root down with singer/guitarist Ben Shemie calling out ‘the oldest rocks on Earth’ on “Look No Further”. “Father begets son / Far from the place of birth / Walk with me on an Elysian Field / Bury me in the Canadian Shield,” he requests, knowing full well as a native that it’s going to be a shallow grave up there in that thin layer of soil. Depth is perception, and myths don’t necessarily deserve preservation.
There’s more than a glint of regenerative fire in the heavy-lidded eyes of “Look No Further”, but Suuns are not out to burn down what they have built up in their decade together and begin again from scratch. Liam O’Neill’s disheveled drums and Joseph Yarmush’s squirming first-take guitar line are soon revealed to be misnomers. The unstable, sustained tension that Suuns slowly wound up and let loose on Hold/Still did not exhaust the group’s psychic reservoirs. Nor did that tension fully dissipate, but spilled over.
Felt is far more focused than it first lets on, but it is also a record that revels in exploring its options. “I’m not trying to win or to lose”, Shemie counts off on the fluidly braiding “Baseline”, “I just want to be able to choose.” Suuns rarely took their hand off the steering wheel on Hold/Still, but in making this turn here, they loosen their grip and allow the tires to straighten out on their own. Affording each member of the band more room to stretch out and experiment naturally makes for some spacious compositions — the dark disco throb of “X-ALT”, the whistle-and-thump of “Materials” — but doesn’t come at the cost of cohesion. Moments of friction are further apart, which gives the eruptions in “Watch You, Watch Me” and “After the Fall” more relative force.
Suuns not only crack open their songwriting on Felt, they open up the recordings themselves to the ambiance of the outside world, almost as if a studio wall was torn down in order to expose the mics to the elements. Faint church bells and bird chirps summon “Look No Further”. If you’re out walking around while listening to “After the Fall”, that’s not actual wind blowing through the trees above you, that’s the end of the track. “Control” is dripped over samples of an interview about dreams and reality conducted ten years ago with a man — who coincidentally turned out to be a poet familiar to Shemie’s family — at Montreal’s St-James Drop-In Centre.
Suuns have continually shown that a little menace and mystery can go a long way, but being cryptic is a currency that can dip in value over time, which is a notion that Felt also nods to. Especially in the latter half, “Make it Real” and “Peace and Love” plead for exactly what they say they want. Vocoder flourishes, occasional saxophone solos and all, Felt is still possibly the most candid album Suuns have made, showing even a little vulnerability in the glimpses it gives into their methods.