An Extended Review of Speaking Suns' Vanishing Country
[Great Guys Records; 2014]
Key Tracks: “The Disenchanted,” “When You Were,” “Sleeper”
“We were all just chumps in high school that liked playing music and weren’t cool enough to play sports,” said Conor Stratton, bassist for Speaking Suns and Owner/Founder/Operator of Great Guys Records.
Speaking Suns, with homes in Athens and neighboring communities of Dayton and Yellow Springs, is an ever-evolving conglomerate of different musicians with different backgrounds from different bands. As of February, Speaking Suns solidified their current roster of singer and guitarist, Jacob Diebold, keyboards and vocalist, Sam Salazar, drummer David Byrne (not that one) and bassist Conor Stratton, and recorded their first album, Vanishing Country.
Many musicians hold close friendships with the roads that take them places. The brick roads that they walk on, instruments in hand. The winding country roads they drive on, in a vehicle packed with frets and friendly faces. The roads of life that they travel to make their dreams of “making it“ become a reality.
Speaking Suns conveys their relationship with these roads in Vanishing Country.
“Vanishing Country is kind of a concept that Jake [Diebold]'s been trying to capture. A lot of it was inspired by the simplicity of driving around Ohio, from the shows in and out of state and driving down highways and country roads. Also, you know, the general commute between Yellow Springs to the Hocking Studios, which we did like a million times recording the album. And so you see all these things, especially in Ohio when you get closer to southern Ohio, like this kind of area, you see all these run-down towns, especially like Nelsonville that are just kind of falling apart. And you also drive through these beautiful countrysides and see these human made things sprawling through this once beautiful landscape. So a lot of these songs took a second meaning to Jake of the vanishing country,” said Stratton.
Vanishing Country carries from song to song like a well-paved, winding road, with quick turns, smooth gliding and heaps of variation, and wouldn’t be a half-bad soundtrack to ride shotgun to.
The energetic jams that, when played live, are absolutely impossible not to move to, were recorded in their best form, not as wild and alive, but still giving recognition to Speaking Suns’ fire.
“We live-tracked most of the new album, like the core instruments: the bass and drums, the rhythm guitar and the rhythm keyboard parts. Mostly all we ever over-dubbed was vocals, that and solos to make sure they were nice and pretty," said Stratton. "So, I guess to an extent we live-tracked everything together in the studio, but one of the things that we wanted to encompass with Vanishing Country when we were thinking about how we wanted to record it was people will always be like ‘Oh, I love Part 1,’ our first EP, then they see us live they’ll be like, 'Holy shit, you guys have this whole different thing!' Its hard to capture sometimes, so we were like, what’s the best way to give that punch when you see us live, but also have nice clean takes that are listenable and approachable."
Tracks on the album like “Judas In Bloom” and “The Disenchanted,” have the same vitality that they do when played live, maybe with the exception of the insanity of their instrumental breaks with chair and hair a-flying. “Judas In Bloom” has a driven baseline accompanied with the constant tinking of cymbals and pounding of keys.
“The Disenchanted” finds its spirit in the determined keyboards and well-muscled, independent old-school style guitar work. The song starts as a slow and steady jazz tune, then slowly progresses to an out-of-control mess, in the best way possible.
Speaking Suns released a music video for “The Disenchanted” last month. The video is artistic and charismatic, exemplary of their eclectic style.
The album is strewn with brief interludes, a lick of a dream sequence created with airy keyboards and just the right percussion. Each interim has its own distinct personality: “Autumnal” sounds like you could be at the part in a video game where a wise shaman is giving you advice or a sweet new weapon, and others like “Serotinal” sound similar to something Modest Mouse would release. These songs have names like “Vernal,” “Estival,” and “Hibernal” that take you through the seasons of the record, forming transitions from one jam to the next.
“Jake knew exactly what he wanted to call each one of those, specifically too, by which song. A lot of them are just kind of in-between songs that tie the ambiance into the next song,” said Stratton.
“When You Were” is another one of those tracks with guiding percussion and keyboards in the chorus, creating a foundation for the whole song. Together with “Symmetry,” the concept behind Vanishing Country comes out. However, at times, the lyrics can be difficult to follow, dripping with esoteric poeticism.
"Sleeper" is not sleepy, despite it’s title. Keyboards are again prevalent, loud and comfortable at the upper end of the board, and lyrics like, “…Someone give them a good time / Let me sleep, let me dream for a little while” are other motivators in the song.
There’s an excellent flow to the whole album. This is not an easy thing to do, so kudos to Speaking Suns. The spread from “When You Were” to “Sleeper” seems like one song, never-ending and unstoppable.
If anything, there needs to be more songs, because the interludes don’t count as full tracks. It’s a short album and unfortunately, you’re at the end before you know it. Overall though, Vanishing Country is a well-done example of blossoming professional music.
“We’ve sold a lot of presales already. Which is obviously really hopeful, I mean if people can’t even wait for the album to actually be out and they gotta get it… you just never know. You just have to ride the wave and see what happens, but I think it’ll go well, ” said Stratton.
Vanishing Country was released on Sept. 23, 2014 via Great Guys Records and funded by Kickstarter. Great Guys Records is a small, independent, not-for-profit record label built around the vision of cultivating an Ohio scene of music that isn’t there. The label was founded by Conor Stratton, bassist for both Speaking Suns and Blond, last year and has since released four albums and a compilation. Great Guys are currently hosting three bands: Blond, Sport Fishing USA and Speaking Suns with hopes to sign two more in the near future.
“Speaking Suns and all the bands have kind of shared the responsibility that this label is ours no matter how it grows. It’s going to be these bands and these musicians and these friends that keep it and pay for it and decide who gets signed," said Stratton. "So, we’re kind of going to carry that, if Speaking Suns got famous, it’s going to be like Kings of Leon owns Serpents and the Snakes and Sufjan Stevens owns Asthmatic Kitty, it would be that kind of thing. All these bands, no matter what happens, we’re carrying this torch for this greater thing that we all care about: having some influence over what music goes out in Ohio and having pride in that. That’s kind of the greater dream, the greater goal, the greater good.”
The release of Vanishing Country is the catalyst in a constant flow of new things coming from Great Guys Records including new albums, new bands and more shows. Essentially touring musicians themselves, Speaking Suns, regular and loyal performers to Athens, Yellow Springs and Dayton, will be initiating their first multi-state tour promoting their new album mid-October.
“I bet you if we added up all the shows we’ve played in a year, it’d total to like three or four months, and a lot of them would be regional for the most part. So, touring kind of implies that you’re out of state a lot of the time, away from your home base, which is what we’re doing next month, starting October 17th. We’re playing in Lancaster, Penn.; we’re playing in Pittsburgh, in Philly, in Brooklyn, in Manhattan, in Boston twice, in Chicago, Cincinnati and Indianapolis," said Stratton. "Where we’re at is we’re a young developing professional band. We almost always have three shows a weekend, the least being two. And we only ever let ourselves have a couple weeks off if we’re working on anything besides shows.”
When living in a small town like good ol’ lady Athens, it’s not infrequent to see in passing the kid that played last night at the Union or the drummer that blew up the Skull this past weekend. Athens has a bangin’ music scene, and we all know it, but Speaking Suns may just be the guys you’re glad you paid a $5 cover to see before they blew up and tickets got steep.
“We’ve built up kind of a reputation as a band that instead of just being this band that shows up at a bar and people may or may not see it, now we’re getting closer to that point when a Speaking Suns poster shows up in front of the Union and they’re playing this show at this date, people are starting to be like 'Oh, I’m gonna go to that, because I’ve seen that band, and I like that band. I bought their record last time, they’re really good.' At least that’s what we hope for,” said Stratton.
Take the opportunity to see the real thing and support the band and the release of their new album, Vanishing Country this Friday, September 26 at the Union for Fallout Fest, the following day, September 27 for their album release party at The Canal Public House in Dayton or next Thursday, October 2 at the Smiling Skull.