A Sunny Day in Glasgow - presumably named after some work of science fiction, rather than a real-world event - have largely flown under the radar since forming in Philadelphia in 2006. On closer inspection, that’s really quite strange; over the past few years, plenty of bands have taken their cues from the freewheeling guitars of, say, Pavement, done precisely nothing new with them, and still enjoyed plenty of acclaim from the critics (Parquet Courts spring to mind...). Similarly, when Yuck plundered the likes of My Bloody Valentine and Dinosaur Jr. on their self-titled debut, their brazen lack of originality didn’t seem to count against them. When a band like A Sunny Day in Glasgow takes those kinds of influences and runs with them, though - and does something genuinely new with them in the process - it kind of feels as if nobody wants to know.
It was on the superb Ashes Grammar back in 2009 that they really got a hold on the sound that’s defined them ever since; those ringing, effects-laden guitars that seem to kind of bleed into each other form the bedrock, augmented by crashing percussion and dreamy vocals from either Jen Goma or Annie Fredrickson that seem to just drift in and out of the soundscape. In places, that album threatened to float a little too far away for its own good, and on Sea When Absent, it seems as if they’ve taken preventative steps to avoid flirting with the same danger again. Opener ‘Bye Bye, Big Ocean (The End)’ sets the tone, in that regard, allowing for washed-out riffs to crash over a busy sonic landscape and yet, all the while, feeling tight, controlled, with the melodies the real driving force throughout.
There’s an irony to that, too, given the fact that the process of producing Sea When Absent was the most fractured yet for the band, with the disparate geography of their members meaning that they had to piece it together via email; at no point in the recording was the entire lineup in the same room together. You can still pick that out, of course, but it’s more in terms of the diversity of the songs on the record, rather than the actual sound of the tracks themselves; ‘MTLOV (Minor Keys)’, for instance, seems to suggest that Goma brought her experience from contributing vocals to the latest Pains of Being Pure at Heart record to the table. As on that album, which is utterly pristine throughout, ‘MTLOV’ has her voice front and centre, with clean guitar lines and gentle synth backing her up. ‘The Things They Do to Me’, meanwhile, is a slow burner; the guitars simmer alongside some eccentric electronic work, collapsing at neatly-arranged intervals into the kind of melodic chiming that characterises the output of Wild Nothing and DIIV, before bringing Goma’s vocals fluttering back into the mix.
What’s really remarkable about Sea When Absent isn’t just the manner in which it keeps this cornucopia of styles together, though; it’s the fact that these songs, which at times have so much going on that they border on dizzying, also work just fine as sun-drenched pop fare, washing over you unobtrusively with their woozy hooks and unerringly joyous outlook. It’s for precisely that reason, in fact, that this album makes a compellingly strong case for the title of the year’s finest alt-pop record; whilst so many hazy albums of this kind struggle to engage on a level beyond superficiality, Sea When Absent - if you’re willing to genuinely invest in it - throws up a plethora of fresh subtleties with every listen. Why can’t every pop band be this thoughtful?
8Joe Goggins's Score