Some bands are blessed with an assured identity right from their inception and manage to greet new listeners with an air of familiarity like the return of an old friend. From the first time I pushed play on Sullen Eyes “Getting There” I was struck by the effortless confidence and mature songwriting awash in ringing guitar melodies. Even band name’s font and the monochrome flowers of the cover art seemed painstakingly designed to pull at the strings of nostalgia. No, this isn’t some forgotten Sarah Records 7” saved from obscurity. Sullen Eyes are a trio from Bangor Maine who happen to have done their homework on the history of indie pop and then put it to practice.
“Intro Jangle” is exactly what it sounds like, a brief jam that never quite grew into a song, but is pleasant enough on the ears and cues the listener on to what’s in store. Moving seamlessly into “Getting There” vocalist Julia strikes up a conversation with the listener, asking about your favorite song and planning a road trip. As far as icebreakers go, it’s a clever way to introduce yourself and and even better way to introduce your band. Julia’s witty lyrics are often sung with a thoughtful yearning which is juxtaposed against the band’s bouncing rhythm and arpeggios. “How It Should Be” builds on the themes of driving with with your crush and working up the courage to let your feelings out. The band plays with their dynamics more this time around to give the song its own distinct character but still remains a danceable upbeat tune like it’s predecessor. The highlight of the EP for this writer is the penultimate track “Take Our Time”. At just barely over two minutes in length, the title takes on an ironic twist but the song says everything it needs to and dragging it out anymore would only feel forced. “Take Our Time” gets straight to the point of being classic pop song with twee pop melodies that capture the euphoria of young love. The final song in this is a cover of The La’s jangle pop classic “There She Goes”. Possibly the most innocuous song ever written about heroin, Sullen Eyes somehow manage to make it sound even more cheerful than the original.
With their no fills, bare basics approach Sullen Eyes sound as if they could easily have come from nearly any decade of rock history. It’s this timeless quality combined with their unabashed love of pop music which exudes a feeling innocence and purity to their songs. This was what made indie pop so great to begin with back in its ‘80s infancy – guitar pop distilled down to its essentials and carried along by a sincere passion for melody.