Houston’s A Sundae Drive (https://asundaedrive.bandcamp.com/) took to the stage last weekend at White Oak Music Hall to celebrate the release of their new album “Versailles”. I have always had a soft spot for this band with their airy, ambiance inducing sound mixed in with genuine punk attitude and angst. I’ve photographed them over a dozen times in shows here and there throughout the city and when I see that they are going to play somewhere, I always try to catch their show. You see… when I was a teenager in the early to mid eighties (yeah, I’m old… I know. Shut up!), I discovered an album that changed my views on music forever. It was dark, sexy and very difficult to understand, but every time I heard it I would find something new… some detail… some nuance… someeeee… something that made me fall in love with the album all over again. This album was “Pornography” by The Cure.
Listening to “Versailles” by A Sundae Drive has been kind of like listening to that “Pornography” album all those years ago. The details and suggestions are all there along with the darkness and mystique that characterizes A Sundae Drive’s music. Now don’t get me wrong; This album is not a goth album and much less is it about the intricacies and dark relationships between death and sex. Instead, it is about much more human and common themes which make the album more relatable (it’s a word!) and more familiar. At times, too familiar.
The album starts with the song “Hall of Fame”. This piece begins with a long introduction marked by a single monotone bass line as its foundation while wide, delay-heavy guitars fly in and out of the song, creating a feeling of travelling through time. The words are sung by guitarist Zeek Garcia in a mind bending melody that is interestingly reminiscent of “Astronomy Domine” by Pink Floyd. In mid song the guitars pick up and the song takes on another breath that gives you the feeling that you are in for something different. Introductory songs on albums can either blow you away immediately or set you up for what is to be a ride through the entire album. This song is most definitely the latter. And since I still love the concept of recording albums and not just songs, this is a great start in my book.
The second track, “Fly South” has bassist and singer Jennifer Gray-Garcia singing in a monotone and droning voice that seems to slowly thrust into your brain the words as she practically whispers in your ear “Distracted… Contracted… paid a visit to our mutual friend…” The soul of this song has deep undertones of Mazzy Star and Portishead with the occasional Patty Smith set of lady-balls when Jennifer surprisingly raises her voice in the choruses and knocks you on your ass with the unexpected release of tension that the song itself has accumulated.
Third on the album is the very trippy “In Threes”. If you dig My Bloody Valentine and the Jesus and Mary Chain, this song is for you. It is probably my favorite on the album just because of the imagery created by the intensely sung lyrics by Sergio Cano and the feeling of floating weightless through an ethereal ocean of sound. Zeek and Sergio play their guitars as if they are 10 feet off the ground. “Life disguised as art,” says the song… indeed, sir… indeed.
“Boxing Day” breaks apart from the rest of the album as a faster paced more pop oriented song. I love how it starts, without warning and without excuses. You are suddenly taken for a ride with great wide open sounding guitars and a fast drum beat played by Mike Medina that makes you want to jump around and dance. The song reminds me of some of the best work of All About Eve and Mission UK but brought up to date with a much more intense and modern melody. I guarantee you will hit that back button (or lift the needle if you are on that vinyl trip) and play it more than once before moving on to the next song.
Which brings me to “Beware the Cages”. I am a sucker for songs like this one. The guitar plays a retro 1960’s line over a slow beat that has more in common with a funeral march than a pop song. Jennifer’s voice is hauntingly beautiful as she tells you “I’m cornered” after having “Took it on the chin again“. The very palpable violence of this song is deeply contrasted by the peaceful sound of its instrumentation. But make no mistake, it is visibly alive and intensively powerful in her voice and lyrics. Craig Wilkins of The Wheel Workers plays a hypnotizing keyboard solo on this song that will take you on a trip far beyond this solar system. I am still figuring this song out and I feel it has much more to say to me as I continue to hear it again and again. An exploratory piece if I’ve ever heard one, for sure. I look forward to discovering its secrets.
The last song on what I wish was a much longer album is “Stubborn”. With its initial opening words, “You fucked up again. It’s alright, It’s OK. Tomorrow is another day,” it grabs you by the throat and won’t let go of you until it has had its way. This song is the one that reminds me so much of The Cure’s “Pornography” and in my opinion, is the perfect way to end the album. The music is somber and poignant. The obsessive beat and eerie melodies evoke images of deep emotional scars as seen through the eyes of someone who is still hopeful that in the end, everything will be OK. The last lines of the song make this very clear. Just after saying how scary everything is, Jennifer brings it back with, “The bravest thing in the world is to love and be loved in return.” Fucking brilliant.
A Sundae Drive has created an album that goes way beyond that whole stifling emo, shoe-gazer genre while still adhering to the basics of what both of those genres truly meant during the times when they were most meaningful. The lyrics are carefully and brilliantly written and the music provides the perfect backdrop for each verse and chorus. This is not a one time listen album, by far. It will take some time and a few listens to understand it fully and I feel that is one of its greatest assets. The more I hear it, the more I learn from it. Truly, what a groundbreaking and unforgettable album should do.
Congratulations guys. This one is a keeper!
“Versailles” was recorded and engineered by Mike BBQ. All the drum tracks were recorded at Steven Higginbotham’s (of The Wheel Workers) Wheel Works Studio who by the way, played violin on “Hall of Fame” and “Stubborn”. The mastering was done at Houston’s own recording studio jewel, Sugar Hill Studios and all the photography on the album art was done by Sabrina Lee in the city of Versailles, France. Trevor Polk handled the design.
Oh… and because this is photographer’s blog, I would be remiss not to include a few shots of that amazing album release show at White Oak music Hall. Take a look at the shots and then get your butts out to https://asundaedrive.bandcamp.com/ and buy “Versailles”.
See you all at the next show.