I guess I should declare an interest: once upon a time I played a gig with The Suncharms. Yes, o.k. it was thirty odd years ago but I believe in transparency.
Anyway somehow three decades have elapsed and against all the odds here we have a debut Suncharms album, once again proving that life is indeed a strange and wonderful thing.
If you’ve ever been in a band when you were relatively young you may recall the intensity, verging on obsession, that can be involved. The ending of such a band can be quite traumatic in particular when there is a sense of unfulfilled potential, Distant Lights is an attempt to bring that potential to fruition.
At this point the question forming in your mind, will be, ‘but is it any good??’
Well it’s a pleasure to give you a very simple answer: oh yes.
It’s a risky business trying to rekindle something that ended an eon ago. Just ask all those artists who have tried and failed, to varying degrees of ignominy. I mean I’m guessing few people are still listening to that Velvet Underground live album…
But if you get it right it can be really special, in fact there’s a case to be made that coming back later in life is a positive advantage. Imagine, chances are you may (hopefully) be more mature, communicate just a little bit better and, very importantly, there is really one main reason for doing this in the modern age: for the love of it. No one’s trying for a major label deal or a ‘hit record’ are they?
It really is all about the music, which is why we’re here.
Now what should a reinvented indie band do when they make their return, follow the zeitgeist, maybe dabble in r’n’b or a little drill? Probably only at their own risk, Suncharms wisely don’t and instead deliver a souped-up take on a classic indie album with a sprinkle of shoegaze around the edges and just enough of their own idiosyncratic touches.
The sound is a little toughened-up when compared with the far flung past and a welcome layer of gentle, yearning melancholy has settled over the songs.
The languid Casting Shadows is full of autumnal beauty and sounds like one of those vital singles released during the immediate post C86 period, I’m thinking Jasmine Minks’ Cold Heart maybe. The ringing guitar solo brings back that feeling of joy you would feel uncovering another proudly independent gem of a record. Halcyon days indeed.
Nostalgia can only go so far though and Distant Lights doesn’t need it to succeed.
The cascading guitar riff that opens Lucifer digs deep while Marcus’ vocal floats on a bed of softly echoing backing vocals before the song shifts gear and sky-scraping guitars fill the final 30 seconds.
It may surprise you just how much of a guitar record this is, listening back to those early recordings and contrasting with Distant Lights there is a clarity and confidence in Matt Neale and John Malone’s playing that either wasn’t there before or was obscured by the budgetary pressures that most indie bands of the time suffered. Seriously, studios were expensive…
The fittingly titled, Dream of a Time Machine rhapsodises distant nights spent ‘dancing with your eyes shut’ in a psychedelic Manchester haze, via the Proustian rush of the sound of a tambourine. This one could have followed Stone Roses onto Top of the Pops back in those indie-takeover days.
Precious Hour ducks and dives over undulating guitar, Emily Neale’s backing vocals adding an anthemic undertow to a song that trades in familiar scuffed-up indie pop jangle but still manages to tweak it in interesting ways, in short, it’s lovely.
I have a particular weak spot for CD bonus track Monster Club, with its Monster Mash style sound effects, piano, strings and Go-Betweens guitar sound, it’s a warm and quirky way to say goodbye and maybe sums up the considerable charms of this record.
Quality consistency is high, but I suppose you could argue they had thirty years to prepare, maybe that’s the key to Distant Lights, they didn’t want to waste their chance. This was unfinished business for The Suncharms, after all these years can you get a group of people in a rehearsal room and create something vital in the here and now? Distant Lights indicates you can.
It stands a very good chance of making you happy at least for 40 mins. What more can we reasonably ask for? Maybe you can go back…