Photo: WIll Lew / Courtesy of Pitch Perfect PR

The Gentle Eschatology of Suuns’ ‘The Witness’

Suuns’ The Witness is most easily described as gently terrifying. A creature that holds you and whispers sweet nothings in your ear about the end of the world.

The Witness
Joyful Noise
3 September 2021

Suuns have been known for making a quietly psychedelic, Krautrock-soaked post-punk. They’ve certainly had some success and said some interesting things. Their probably most well-known track, “2020”, with its characteristic unnerving guitar part, tastes like a mental breakdown. Their newest album, The Witness, can most easily be described as “gently terrifying”. A creature that holds you and whispers eschatological sweet nothings in your ear. Like if the Scarfolk Council blog had a background score.

This LP is more heavily electronic than their previous work while retaining the minimum heaviness for rock. It’s not particularly experimental; it is rock music on a synthesizer, good listening, yes, (it’s Suuns, of course, it’s good listening) but uniquely scary as hell. But it’s electronic enough that when you do catch ear of physical instrumentation, it grounds you into a dystopia à la Ramin Bahrani’s Fahrenheit 451 with Michael B. Jordan, one where the analog is secret and sacred, where an acoustic guitar could be contraband.

Unlike much contemporary electronic rock music, this isn’t conventionally danceable—not a critique, merely an observation. Everything is just a hair too slow—an infinitely building tension to which you can tap your foot or snap your fingers but that you are just a little too afraid to try dancing to. As if by listening to it, you are conjuring some monster that will see you and catch you and eat you if you move too quickly. “The Fix” comes the closest to having a sufficiently danceable beat, but the little smatterings of acoustic instrumentation break it up. Like an immobilized version of the Presets’ Pacifica album or a less campy Q36 by the Rentals, the end of the world is nigh, and it’s kind of cool, but in this case, we’re not going to dance to it.

“C-Thru” is the only track that bothers with the now-traditional soaring synths; the other songs hung up in strange worlds where the blues never happened. That said, “Clarity” has brief flirtations with jazz, but it’s jazz in a mirror darkly, all normal human pain stripped away and replaced with an all-encompassing cosmic horror in ones and zeroes.

Unlike Suuns’ previous music, this is less post-punk and more something much older and much more alarming than the likes of New Order and their kin. It’s unique to electronic rock in that it’s less 21st-century hauntology and more Daphne Oram or Delia Derbyshire, the pioneers of truly disorienting electronic music. Suuns have, in effect, retraced the origins of the spacey Krautrock sound to create a musique concrète, albeit with fewer samples (the birdsong in “Timebender” aside), as the soundtrack to a unique end of the world.

Closing track “The Trilogy” is the true highlight of the LP. Maybe the plainest instrumentally (despite, perhaps purposefully, recalling “I Am a God” off of Yeezus) it has the most explicitly disarming lyrics. “Fifty thousand generations of lovers entwined and a million years of fossils burning in a pyre, while I’m moving to a future without fire,” but also, “How much more can I sing until the smoke has cleared? Wipe the ash from your brow and give it one more year.” The end of the world is nigh, and we’re too busy with hope to dance.

Overall, The Witness sounds like if you took circa-2014 mainstream alternative radio and concentrated it, back when everything felt like the world was ending when the music sounded like the prodrome to a panic attack. We’ve gone through a great deal since that now seemingly inconsequential year, and our apocalypse has matured. A cheerful nihilism permeates every facet of our lives—we crack jokes about the plague and no longer bother speaking of the hole in the ozone layer. The world has ended a hundred thousand times, and Suuns have made many albums but have still found something new to say.

RATING 8 / 10