Suuns: Hold/Still

Suuns made a career-focusing album reflective of, and worthy of, our scattered brains.
Secretly Canadian

Suuns have always had an original take on rock music, their records marked by electronic-leaning applications of guitar, synth and drum sounds that placed their music just off the rails of any rock sub-genre. But if those great albums — Images du Futur, Zeroes QC — ultimately sounded at home in your living room next to other rock songs, Hold/Still is more of a conversation piece. Across the 13 tracks, they’ve removed many of the sticky sinews from their music (vocal harmonies threaded through the tracks, consistent rock drumming), but left the robust skeleton of their core ideas standing. As a result, it’s an album you have to sit down and listen to. Which shouldn’t feel revolutionary, but these days, feels like it.

Hold/Still doesn’t ask fundamentally different questions of their listeners, it just poses them in a more unique way. The elements which remain in their sound, though markedly more ambient and tonal in presentation, are fundamentally sworn to the same basic rock ‘n’ roll tenets: there is a song at the center of the track; the bass drum is designed to line up with the bass; guitars fill out the higher frequencies. And yet, few tracks contain these elements all lined up at once. Instead, they are shifted in time, deleted, or withheld such that their unity is contained more within tension than in its release. To locate Suuns’ sound, you have to listen closely, or else the otherwise beautiful elements can fall through your fingers.

This is all not to say that this record isn’t chock full of stunning and visceral beauty. In fact, musically it’s they’re most accomplished. There are tracks where the full band’s thrilling post-post-punk sound is mainlined, in particular via the early singles, “Paralyzer” and “Translate” (really the only two songs that could have been released as singles). On the album, their fully realized grooves are shiver-inducing.

Ultimately, Hold/Still is a headphone rock album, existing comfortably alongside fellow Canadians, Viet Cong, and filling out a contemporary indie rock scene that is increasingly competing in that arena. The album’s broad reaching taste turns on a dime from minimal techno to balladry and contains tones throughout that should live up to even metal heads’ taste for novel ambience. The production effort by John Congleton (St. Vincent, Modest Mouse, the Walkmen) is stacked with ingenious vocal effects, creative drum treatments, and sensory intense textures that feel utterly congruous with the versatile and mind-bending synth and guitar playing.

On “Infinity”, singer Ben Shemie opines “four thoughts at the same time / ten thoughts at the same time”. Suuns have created a record which doesn’t thumb its nose at the existential problems of listener in enjoying and listening to music, but identifies with it and mounts the only truly acceptable response: make music reflective of, and worthy of, our scattered brains.

RATING 7 / 10