The Drop Beneath
Sundays have always been an important music day for me. Once my obsession truly formed in my early teens, it seems as though Sunday was the day that I generally chose to isolate myself and listen and listen closely to the music I was beginning to collect. Sure, I listened to music as much as possible, but it was those Sundays, when the headphones would come out and I would immerse myself completely and spend most of the day listening to record after record. It didn’t hurt that it was Sunday night during the late 80s when MTV’s 120 Minutes would come on at midnight (okay, officially Monday morning). Being from a small town, and well before there was such easy access to music from all over the world, MTV was then, actually an important sort of national radio station (they played videos!!) and 120 Minutes was the rare opportunity to be exposed to the then coined “college rock,” or later “post modern” music of the day. In other words, the music that wasn’t getting a lot of radio exposure at the time. Sure they played and highlighted the soon to be giants such as R.E.M., The Cure, Depeche Mode, The Smiths and New Order, but it was generally towards the end of the show when an unannounced video would pop up mixed between a couple of UK up and comers, from the likes of Guadalcanal Diary, Minutemen, the Limespiders or the Didjits. These were the moments where I really felt like I was getting in on some kind of secret and would go to school the next day buzzing with news of some cool “new” band. This is what recently hearing the latest Eternal Summers album felt like to me.I’m a little late to the game. This album, Eternal Summers’ third (I’m trying to ignore the impossibility of the concept of multiple eternal summers), was released back in March. My introduction came via their May tour with long time favorite Maxïmo Park (see here), during their recent visit to Portland. In a fit of unusually rare sensibility, I actually checked into the opening band to hear what I might be in for. This is a practice that I mysteriously avoid, and so have found myself stricken with regret by showing up too early and witnessing multiple terrible bands bore me into exhaustion and extinguishing the fire that had been burning for the headliner, or annoyed that I missed some amazing spectacle - catching the last half of a song of some band who have just wowed an unsuspecting audience – as I try to find a good place to be inside the venue. For whatever reason, I did check in on Eternal Summers and liked what I heard. I even went out and bought The Drop Beneath CD that very afternoon and made sure to show up on time.
The music Eternal Summers create is unlike much of the contemporary music out there today. This is a power trio who have tapped into the much missed well of the great “college rock” of the old days. They don’t sound specifically like anyone, but they evoke a time long lost. It’s fitting that this album is immaculately produced by Doug Gillard, who was a huge part of the hardworking Midwestern indie scene back in the 80s and 90s (and still today) with bands like Death of Samantha, Cobra Verde, Guided by Voices and recently, Nada Surf. This trio can rock with the best of them, but aren’t afraid to actually write dramatic and catchy songs. They play with the meticulousness of the Feelies, or the underrated Saturnine, crossed with the wild emotional abandon of early Buffalo Tom. Singer/Guitarist Nicole Yun is a revelation. She is not afraid to pull off some intriguing leads and solos throughout, all while offering up a nicely varied set of vocals befitting the mix of songs, and having witnessed them perform live, they are a tight unit, as drummer Daniel Cundiff and bassist Jonathan Woods lock into each song with vigor. This band clearly loves what they’re doing and have put in a lot of practice.
The Drop Beneath is packed full of highlights, but it’s with “Gouge” that they really strike an immediate chord. The song kicks swiftly like something from the Cure’s Head on the Door, as played by an American band, however, Yun’s vocals are slow and dreamy creating an interesting juxtaposition that draws out the maximum emotion from the self-disparaging love message inside. Definitely one of the great singles of the year so far. Similarly, the momentum gathering “Never Enough” grabs onto a rock solid groove and does not let go. Meanwhile, the excellent, “Make It New” finds Yun pulling screeching, yet tasteful, notes out of her guitar along the lines of J Mascis from SST-era Dinosaur Jr. to amazing effect. Elsewhere, there are jangling breaks in the action with the Cundiff led “Not For This One,” and the late night contemplation of “Capture.” Not to be ignored is the buoyant, bouncing, and uplifting “A Burial” (its inhibitions and past mistakes that are being buried here), or the stuttering and dream-like beauty of the mildly Lush-evoking “Deep End.” Finally, the two closing songs really show the range and power this band wields. “Until the Day I Have Won” is a stunning ballad of perseverance, where Yun sings with a touching abandon. Lastly, the huge sounding epic closing title track is a perfect finale. This song reminds me of a lot of things I cannot quite put my finger on, but it truly feels like a song that has always been a part of my life. Woods’, 1-2-3 deep end bass-line lays a massive foundation for Yun to display her guitar prowess for this beautiful and desperate song (“I wish that I could take your good advice / to be happy / to be quenched with the drop beneath the ice / if you want to / you could be the one to take my life / and make it right”). Absolutely stunning and heartbreaking.
Now, I suppose, it’s time for me to seek out their earlier work, but in the meantime, I highly recommend this fun listen to start.