Those of you who are familiar with films like The Wizard of Oz and The Prestige might relate: the mechanics behind the magic can be just as compelling as the smoke and mirrors themselves. Just ask Montreal outfit SUUNS. As a band who have been around for thirteen years and toured all corners of the world, there comes a point where the veil needs to be fully lifted. Up till now, the experimental rockers have reveled in mystery like a silhouette disappearing into the mist, putting out albums that rest comfortably in ambiguity, detachment, and innuendo. But lately, SUUNS appear to be more comfortable coming clean with their own inner workings. “This is a very geeky thing,” singer/guitarist Ben Shemie delineates. “But we never really commit to a certain kind of tonality. Whether it’d be major or minor, there's always a certain kind of evading of what your own expectation is.”
Nevertheless, SUUNS’ fifth full-length album The Witness – their first for Joyful Noise Recordings – once again marks a shrewdly offbeat left turn. The tried-and-true narrative for a band of this nature is always to ‘move to the deep end’ or ‘out of the comfort zone’. In some ways that rings true on The Witness, though one could say these eight movements actually show SUUNS in their most comfortable, candid state. Self-recorded and self-produced over the majority of 2020 – a year of strife, solitude, and reflection –, The Witness finds the band holding a magnifying glass over their own default state of playing and performing. It’s a swift departure from previous album Felt, which exults in harvesting haphazard ideas in their embryonic, demoed versions, as if letting loose a glorious fireworks display into the heavens.
Activity are an avant four-piece featuring Travis Johnson, and drummer Steve Levine, both from the band Grooms, bassist Zoë Browne from Field Mouse, and guitarist Jess Rees from Russian Baths. Produced by engineer Jeff Berner of Psychic TV, their debut forms a casually menacing framework for lyrical themes of paranoia, exposed character flaws, and the broader human capacity for growth when an ugly truth is laid bare.
Lead single “Calls Your Name,” establishes the record’s spectral aura with nauseated electronic bells, and a relentless Geoff Barrow-esque drum beat beneath a half-sung, half-spoken lyrics inspired by C.S. Lewis’s 1945 novel The Great Divorce. In the novel, characters stuck in a grey, joyless conception of hell repeatedly deny opportunities to be taken into heaven, instead making excuses as to why they should remain in their embittered purgatory states. Allegorically, this speaks to the kind of opportunity for metamorphosis and positive change that’s possible when the depths of disillusionment are reached, an idea which permeates much of the album. Despite recurrent aches of discontentment, each track glows with radiant waves of catharsis while elegantly evoking jubilation and anguish within the same breadth, showing that the two are always around the corner from one another.