A Sundae Drive Releases Their Strongest Album To DateA Sundae Drive, Photo: Uncredited/Courtesy of Artist
Your favorite band will more than likely change direction multiple times over the course of their career. Sometimes when that happens, the listening public turns a blind eye to those changes rather than embracing them. It’s a thing that can ruin the fan’s relationship with the band as the listener. However, when bands grow and make their sound more unique and defined, that’s when I get excited. On their new album Versailles, Houston’s A Sundae Drive does just that. Embarking on a sound that has a more defined and growth inspired direction where the band sounds closer to something original than someone else’s influence. Incorporating a more grandiose direction and at times, post punk sound, this album proves that a band’s growth is essential to survival while showcasing the strengths of these four as a unit.
Opening with the slower but more direct sound of “Hall of Fame,” the band immediately sounds different than their former selves. Moments of grand orchestration and somber notes sound like no one else, and usher in the change that will embody the rest of the album. The track holds your attention while you hold onto each and every note. This continues on the following song, “Fly South” where the band builds a slow pace. Bassist and sometimes vocalist Jennifer Garcia takes the helm here and when the build breaks, the payoff is immense. Swarming guitars and moments that remind you of “Foolish” era Superchunk mixed with later era Sonic Youth. The intricacy of the guitars that squeal and emanate in the background while Garcia’s vocals take the band to a whole new place creating a sonic landscape between the two elements that the band has never offered up on prior releases. The squealing guitar solos that the band employed in the past are still there, but there’s more separation from each instrument here showing off how important the bass and drums are to the band’s sound. This is the band at their best, when they move forward and explore new territory without losing too much of the elements that made them such standouts in the past.
While the band returns to the slower side of things on “In Threes,” the mix of the instruments has more weight than if they were turned up to the maximum volume. A deep and heavy drum slowly blasts while the bass gets taken for a walk and guitars wash over the song like a fever dream. When the song breaks, it breaks out hard. Lush guitars fill your headphones while the bass opens up and the drums play intensely without sounding like an explosion, and the vocals full of reverbed notes seem to erupt with precision and force. This gets followed by the speedy and almost Sonic Youth sounding “Boxing Day.” Snappy and full of life, the lead guitar really opens this song up before the rhythm guitar helps to add a depth from the band that reminds you of their past without really feeling dated. The way the drums come across like a bully stealing your lunch money alongside the desperation in Garcia’s vocals, crafts a sound from this band that shows how far they’ve come as a band. There’s a fevered stride here where the song is quick, but not without perspicacity, and there are even moments where the turns the group takes together seem to come from somewhere else without feeling foreign or unhinged. They return to that slow build full of intense notes all over the fifth track, “Beware The Cages,” opting for a more blistering approach. Keeping things thick with multiple guitar tracks while Garcia calls out into the darkness, the band is truly on the top of their game here, finding a balance between the build and the breaking point where all of these sounds go to a place where the amplifiers explode and stop working.
The album gets fittingly closed off with the sixth and final song, “Stubborn.” Opening with multiple guitar tracks that seem to dance like apparitions in a haunted mansion, the creepy bassline along with the soft and earnest vocals of Garcia really stick to your bones. There’s an ominous tone to the song before the guitars start to waltz with one another before the drums hit with stark and dark beats. The building up on this track again shows a side to the band we’ve not heard outside of this release, complete with meandering guitars and multiple drum sounds that seem to tease you of the payoff. However, when the tracks opens up, an additional violin track really adds to the grand feeling of it all, like you’re dancing in your Sunday best in a castle somewhere in Eastern Europe. The murky notes that pitch at the same level of the vocals on this track sound like things are getting ready to go awry before the song unfurls into a bombastic myriad of bellows and feedback that are truly worth the wait.
Versailles is not the result of a band changing direction as much as it’s just growth from a four piece who seems to have truly found their strongest points and offered them up as a collective thought. The build up of the tracks, the use of Garcia more as lead vocalist, and the distant feeling of the songs before they come together and explode into something new here is the band at their best and most progressive. You can find Versailles streaming today, or pick up your own physical copy at White Oak Music Hall upstairs on Saturday April 1. The all ages show with doors at 8 pm will feature sets from Glass The Sky, The Wheel Workers, and The Ex-Optimists with a $7 cover.