SUNDAYS – Inner Coasts (2021) [FLAC 24bit/44,1kHz]

SUNDAYS – Inner Coasts (2021)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/44,1 kHz | Time – 36:42 minutes | 448 MB | Genre: Folk
Studio Masters, Official Digital Download | Front Cover | © K&F Records

So here’s one of the hardest things to reckon with as a critic: you find a debut album pretty much by accident on Bandcamp, the opening track and lead-off single blows your mind, and you happen to discover that the album itself is one of the best of its respective year. And while I would never claim to be responsible for ‘breaking’ any acts, I do know that my reviews have led to the most coverage some have seen…

Which can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, it’s the best possible example of using one’s platform – I get to talk about an album that’s just flat out wonderful, and they get more acclaim and possibly fans as a result, it’s a win-win for everyone involved… but the other side of that is you set yourself a standard and expectations that feel a bit more personal. After all, continuity and expansion require a different and larger set of skills than just creating brilliance once, and they no longer have the benefit of surprise – and when the band is small enough that you know they might see the review again, you wind up feeling more nervous and invested than just covering the follow-up for the debut that caught popular attention as well.

And in this case… well, SUNDAYS was one of those bands that always startled me with how much I liked them. Yes, a lot of it came down to fantastic fundamentals across gorgeous mixes and emotionally intelligent writing and hooks that just seemed to keep on coming… but let’s be real, in terms of pure comparisons you could draw the parallels to early Bon Iver and plenty of other indie folk acts with willowy singers and bright melodies. And when I got word that this follow-up Inner Coasts was going to add traces of rock elements to get a little moodier and darker, move the subtext of Wiaca to actual text, and they were involving producer Asger Techau – the former drummer of the Danish band Kashmir, who got some acclaim in Scandinavian countries but were really pretty middle-of-the-road in their time – I was worried how well it would turn out. And yes, part of this was me grappling with how we probably weren’t going to get another ‘Shade Of The Pines’, but hey, even if it doesn’t fall among the best of 2021, it could still be great, right?

Well, let me put it like this: yes, SUNDAYS are two for two, this is legit amazing and will probably be among the best albums of 2021. Does it have a song that’s as pure magic as ‘Shade of the Pines’? No. Does that mean it’s worse than Wiaca? …well, initially that was a pretty major thought in my mind minus that high point, but the more I thought about Inner Coasts, the more I realized that its strengths are in slightly different spaces. Yes, the core fundamentals are as fantastic as ever, but I realized pretty quickly that given the evolution and shifts in subject matter and sound, a pure comparison to the debut kind of misses the mark – more a lateral shift than I think the band will get credit, especially the more you dig into the details, and that was something I needed to come around on the more listens I gave it.

And to explain this, I have to start with the frontman Magnus Jacobsen and revisit the arc of Wiaca a bit, and some of the darkness on that album that may have gone overlooked. The biggest strength of the content on that album is that it could work in two distinctive lanes – leaning into the effervescent shimmer of the love-struck yearning moments, but also digging around the edges into the self-consumed angst and self-pity that forces our protagonist to grow up over the course of the album when he stops getting everything he wants; its power comes in being able to do both. I think a good word to describe that album is therapeutic, especially in leaning into how his art has allowed him the space to explore and come to grips with these emotions, and accept the real life consequences with some newfound maturity. Well, Inner Coasts picks up a little further down the road and asks the follow-up question: art may have been the mechanism for his growth, but what happens if it starts to overshadow a relationship, especially when there’s an open question of whether the relationship was working anyway and the art might have a larger impact outside of himself, and deep down some of that self-obsessed angst hasn’t gone away; hell, in the experience of drilling into one’s obsessions, it may have gotten magnified!

Now as a whole that means the tone and presentation is darker – Jacobsen has said on this project he was encouraged to get more blunt and raw, maybe even more banal in his word choice, and I can see why he might think that – why seek to cocoon myself in art where there are bigger and more important things to focus on. But while that text is there, there are plenty of those swelling, gleaming moments of multi-tracked harmonies and hooks that reinforce just how potent that attraction to creation can be. And full disclosure, as someone who has created art and who appreciates the mystique of inspiration – and who has been the one to self-sabotage a relationship that maybe wasn’t the strongest in pursuit of that art, and who has always loved this kind of metatext… yeah, there’s a thematic resonance to this project that sticks for me! That said, I appreciate how early on the album Jacobsen sets up the scene – I don’t love the opening track ‘Salt Of The Earth’, but it sets up someone who thinks he’s earned his inspiration but is cautious in what it could bring. I like how ‘Shadow Dress’ and ‘Drifter’ delves into his tenuous relationship paralleled with his art, both of which force him to get vulnerable and are fleeting as a result. And that gives ‘All We Have Is Time’ so much tension and power – probably one of the best songs on the album, it captures that anxious feeling of being torn across passions, a “love” song but one that is precarious as all hell. And like with Wiaca, the ‘love story’ seems to hit an end… but I like how in this case the feelings are still there but they’re fleeting and tough to grasp, left weightless just like his muse seems to be.

And this is where I think the album does something kind of ingenious: ‘Song For The Times’, which on the surface seems like SUNDAYS making their ‘bring people together through music’ track, the sort of hollow cliche that would raise my eyebrows… until you note the little details, how they describe it as a song for ‘cynics and critics’, who’ll see through all of it, framing both sides having to compromise but also noting it’s a song for the ‘power’, implying who really will see the most to gain. What I like is that the sentiment is so well-delivered that it can work even if the inspiration feels hollow… and that leads to the darkest moments on the project where to get to that point our protagonist needs to confront the real vulnerabilities one is forced to explore to make something beyond little insecurities, and when you hit the raw, dark bleakness of that end, he realizes he needed that human connection way more than he knew, not just for his art but for himself. The selfishness of his creative process is punctured, and for the first time we hit some genuine humility, where he knows to confront trauma, acknowledge his screwups, and make statements that can resonate beyond himself, he needs to be willing to give and look outside himself. It mirrors a segment on ‘Shadow Dress’ where he has a real late night conversation and sees himself as others do… and then implodes and panics rather than address it, whereas by ‘Take Me Home’ he can say ‘the truth is just a paraphrase’ – your interpretation rather than one that includes the bigger picture.

Oh, and the music’s fantastic too! See, that’s the funny thing: there’s enough layers and depth in Jacobsen’s writing that you almost miss the fact that SUNDAYS’ incredibly rich approach to indie folk with shimmering, ethereal textures, stunning vocal arrangements with Marie Linander Henriksen – seriously, ‘Weightless Feathers’ is goddamn stunning and fits the content perfectly, and I like how limited any backing arrangement highlights the loneliness of ‘Midnight Passing’ – and firm melodic grooves are still very much intact; maybe even sharper this time around given that unlike Wiaca, this album doesn’t meander in its midsection or back half. That does lead to a few moments I don’t love – the album starts slower and colder with that little electric rollick supporting the spare acoustics and lurking bass on ‘The Salt of the Earth’ that almost reminds me of some late 90s prog and show Techau’s influence, which impacts the misty synth arrangement on ‘Drifter’ to better results, but then ‘Midnight Passing’ feels a little too brittle and swallowed in its atmosphere as a result – but those electric touches only add more smoky bones to the compositions, often stacking songs that already have good melodic hooks with more! And you pick up so many little compositions details as a result – I love how the bridge bends across key changes with some really nice intricacy in the groove on ‘Shadow Dress’, and ‘Siberia’ uses the ragged violin touches and some subtly terrific drumwork to accentuate the haunted vibes and a surprisingly bright hook, which leads brilliantly into the beautifully understated closer ‘Take Me Home’ with the piano and violin that somehow winds up just as quietly catchy. And then there’s ‘All We Have Is Time’, which builds its synth-inflected crescendo so well that it can’t help but be utterly infectious, even despite the pit-of-your-gut feel that materializes with the content! And when you factor in that as a whole it feels tighter, clocking just over thirty-five minutes…

Well, let me put it like this: this is exactly the sort of project I’m happy SUNDAYS was able to make – it expands and deepens the themes and sounds, and it shows a lot of subtle refinement where Wiaca was a debut that had so much stunning effervescent shimmer that you could occasionally lose track of the better details. More importantly, I’d argue this is more accessible – more variation in the sound palette adds character and shows more lanes from where the band could develop, while still maintaining a foundation that puts damn near anyone else in indie folk to shame. This was the album that proves it wasn’t all lightning in a bottle, and that is thrilling to say the least – and that means this is a light 9/10 and absolutely a high recommendation. Again, too many people are going to sleep on this – and despite how pillowy so many of these songs are, I recommend you sit up and take notice.

Tracklist:
1-1. SUNDAYS – Salt of the Earth (03:35)
1-2. SUNDAYS – Shadow Dress (03:32)
1-3. SUNDAYS – Drifter (04:59)
1-4. SUNDAYS – All We Have is Time (04:30)
1-5. SUNDAYS – Weightless Feathers (03:22)
1-6. SUNDAYS – Song for the Times (03:47)
1-7. SUNDAYS – Midnight Passing (04:18)
1-8. SUNDAYS – Siberia (04:24)
1-9. SUNDAYS – Take Me Home (04:14)

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