Print Edition: June 4, 2014
I was drawn to Sunny Pompeii when I found out it was the side project of Said the Whale drummer Spence Schoening. There’s a certain appeal in listening local, and I have a soft spot for Vancouver bands — especially those in the style of Said the Whale and Sunny Pompeii.
Make no bones about it: Sunny Pompeii is a different beast — rougher and a little more emotionally and technically raw — but the apple doesn’t necessarily fall all that far from the tree. With Vinegar, their first full-length album, they offer a mix of metaphor-dosed lyrics and dreamy vocals, seasoning with a touch of harder rock and roll to keep it interesting.
Following a couple of short-and-sweet EPs, Vinegar comes armed with an earnest style and a healthy helping of determination that sneaks into the tone of the music. It’s a little rough-and-tumble, but 100 per cent honest.
The album opens with “Better Half” (free for download on Bandcamp at the moment if you want to take a listen), which starts off fresh with some waves, seagulls, and power chords. What’s not to love? It screams Vancouver. It’s catchy and intense and just raw enough to give the tune a certain sense of desperation. “I wish I was an ocean so I could drown you,” we hear at the halfway mark. “You would be so mad!” The lyrics somehow manage to rumble and float at the same time. It’s the sort of song that pairs nicely with unrequited love and fast driving, just in time for summer.
With a couple of songs, including second track “Sleeplike,” we get the perfect touch of echo chamber effects on the vocals for a dreamy atmosphere. Dashes of violin, flute, and organ peek in over the album, but not so much that it gets nauseatingly indie — instead we get the idea that Sunny Pompeii is willing to follow their whims into whatever instruments catch their fancy, without detracting from the simple recipe of guitar finger-picking, brushes on snare, and dreamy vocals that created a certain signature sweet-and-saltiness in their first few short albums.
The band also dekes into a healthy dose of metal without actually becoming metal, going whole hog into harsh guitar riffs and drum tattoos for parts of “Jessica Sun” and “Garbage Island.” Any previous fans of the band, however, (or new fans more interested in less-esoteric vanilla indie) will be happy to note a few tracks falling in the same simple, comforting vein as the band’s previous offerings: cute tales for happy summer living with honest, earnest roots.
“Leap Year” stands out as a cheeky love note, singing “Our neighbours have been complaining / we don’t get enough sleep.” In a more familial love song, “Brothers” introduces a few sweet, metaphorical verses: “Now I see / that outside my window there are three trees / and neither one is taller than the other / I guess that’s what you call a brother.”
Whatever your preference, Sunny Pompeii offers an album that both sticks to their roots and branches out in new ways — perfect for summer, and for listeners both old and new. The fact that the band hails from so close to home (and has a $10 show at the Vancouver Fox Cabaret Thursday, June 5) is the perfect cherry on top of a solid first full-length album.