A friend and I went to see A Sunny Day in Glasgow at the Bottom Lounge a couple of nights ago. The Philadelphia noise/dream-pop band is touring in support of their second album, Ashes Grammar. On an unrelated note, there were two representatives from Glenfiddich distributing much-appreciated free samples of 15-year old whisky the same night.
My first introduction to the shoegaze/dream-pop genres (which also originated in Scotland) was through My Bloody Valentine’s classic Loveless, which I listened to almost nonstop during a month-long exam period in undergrad. I found the combination of textures, melody, rhythm, and noise fascinating, and a year ago I was fortunate to be able to see it recreated live.
Ashes Grammar is a meticulous album; Ben Daniels should be lauded for the technical detail contained in these 22 tracks. That said, it still contains plenty of melodic gems, but the LP as a whole doesn’t contain the emotion you may find in other albums of the same genre (e.g. Souvlaki). I think the sophomore work is better than the debut, Scribble Mural Comic Journal – it’s more focused and coherent. The short tracks, which seem at first unnecessary, contribute to the flow of the album by providing a bit of space and breathing room, allowing the listener to better appreciate the many sonic layers of the longer songs. The opening ten seconds are apparently a homage to Arvo Pärt; I suppose the bells and “cathedran” (to use a Wallace-ism) reverb in the vocals are a nod to the Estonian composer. Two particularly effective combinations of short/long are “Lights/Passionate introverts (Dinosaurs)” and “West Philly vocoder/Evil, with evil, against evil”. Ashes Grammar is full of aural apices: the minute mark into “Evil”, the vocoder sequence in “Ashes maths”, the vocal line “Staring softly into space” on “Starting at a disadvantage”, the “Canalfish/Loudly” transition.
The live show was short in length, but high in quality. Taking the stage at around 11:30, they ran through most of the songs longer than a minute on the new album, starting with highlight “Evil, with evil, against evil” and ending with “Things Only I Can See”, the penultimate track off the first album. The two female vocalists were excellent; the vocals were slightly clearer live, but retained the hazy ambiguity that integrates them well with the instrumentals on the album. I was impressed by the band’s ability to reproduce the complexity on stage. I know they played “Failure”, “Ashes Grammar/Maths”, “Shy”, and “Passionate introverts (Dinosaurs)”.
According to their site, the band has recorded another album’s worth of material and is looking to tour again next year; hopefully, they’ll have an easier time assembling musicians.
Aside: The above picture is from their touring blog, and has a humorous anecdote.