A lot has changed since A Sunny Day in Glasgow last took the stage together.
On the one hand, their particular brand of shoegaze-influenced dream pop has quite a few predecessors, most notably My Bloody Valentine, with the coy experimentalism of groups like Broadcast. But from 2006-2010, when the band was most active, there weren’t very many people doing what they were doing in quite the same way, despite whatever obvious cues they might have taken from bands that came before.
2013 is a different story. We’ve got Tamaryn, we’ve got Young Prisms, we’ve got Wild Nothing, we’ve got a slew of other bands releasing LPs that all kind of exist in this soupy, soothing blare of hazey indie rock. I don’t mean to imply that the sound is worn-out or adopted too often. You could do worse than to reference shoegaze. But it’s interesting to wonder this current revival and subsequent proliferation was spurred at least in part by the acclaim that releases like Scribble Mural Comic Journal and Ashes Grammar garnered at the time of their release.
I really adored A Sunny Day in Glasgow. Always kind of hated the name, but track for track obsessed over what they were doing sonically. The reverby harmonies, drowning in a drone that at times was even something of a challenge to listen to (see 5:15 Train) created a constant tension between the lovely aspects of the songs and the echoic harshness that threatened to destroy that beauty. There were so many layers to dissect, but you had to be willing to sit there and listen. And in those days, as silly as it might seem, I defined my musical identity by being someone who would listen to that sort of thing, and felt in a very real way that it gave me a separate identity from those who would not.
It had been a while since I’d heard anything from them. There had been a kickstarter campaign to help them finish their upcoming album. But in the internet age, attention spans are unfortunately shortened by the zillions of releases that come out constantly, by the fact that those releases are at our fingertips, by the fact that most of them don’t warrant more than a few casual listens before moving onto the next big thing. I’d fallen a bit of a victim to that, and nearly forgot about A Sunny Day in Glasgow.
That is, until I noticed they had scheduled a show for LES venue Pianos last Wednesday. What could it mean? One thing it meant was that they were still around, still making music. And another thing that it meant was that I’d be seeing them soon.
I arrived at the venue just a few songs into opening band Friend Roulette’s set (they have a residency at Piano’s in January). The match made immediate sense to me; Friend Roulette play intense, orchestral indie rock. Not one but two drummers graced the stage, energetically backing the yearning coos of vocalist Julia Tepper, who gracefully played a swoony violin. Also of note was the presence of John Stanesco, or more specifically, his EWI (which stands for Electronic Wind Instrument). This is one of the most mind-boggling contraptions I’ve seen recently. It’s definitely a woodwind-ish instrument, played like an oboe or clarinet, but with synth-like keys that can allow it to sound like anything from a flute to a keyboard. I was so obsessed with discerning what it was that it almost distracted me from the band playing.
Being completely distracted, however, was bit of an impossibility, considering how aggressive they are for an indie-rock outfit. While Friend Roulette is a chamber-pop band that likes to consider themselves kitschy, there was an underlying moodiness to some of their work. I was most taken with their newest track, “Golden”, featuring a gorgeous, moaning swirl of violin between choruses. But just a few songs later, they played what I seriously thought was going to be a cover of “Eye of the Tiger”, the opening riffs lifted directly from the iconic Rocky theme. It then it morphed into something more original, leaving me thinking that maybe it was just sort of a jokey intro to their own song. Later in the song, however, whiffs of “Eye of the Tiger” came back, so that turned out not to be the case.
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Despite all that, there are intriguing elements to this band’s compositions, especially the quieter, more subtle plucked violins – but also the cacophonous builds and the drama that comes from them. This residency could be a great boon for an emerging band like Friend Roulette, still trying to suss out what works and what doesn’t. The audience seemed quite enthusiastic, so that’s a good start.
A Sunny Day in Glasgow took the stage a little later than expected, though that did not stop them from playing a full set. Pianos loves to deafen its patrons, so the sound wasn’t so much “mixed” as it was excruciatingly loud. As a result, lead vocalist Jen Gorna had to strain to be heard, pushing her already lean voice to its thinnest points. Likewise, Annie Fredrickson’s vocals got a bit lost, and as such there was really no hope to bring to the forefront the unique harmonies that set the band apart from their contemporaries. There didn’t seem to be much reverb on the vocals either, which I consider an essential characteristic behind the band’s recorded sound. Rather, the two girls tried to rely on playing off of one another to achieve the same effect, which unfortunately didn’t come across with guitar and keys drowning them out.
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The band has a great energy though, even shrugging off a heckler who cried “Play the song the drummer knows!” Gorna did mention that they had not played onstage together in two years, but it was more a statement of fact than an apology for any shortcomings. She also said that she hoped everyone in the audience had done some drugs before arrival (I had not, not realizing it was a requirement). They played a healthy mix of tunes from all three releases and, of course, unveiled some new songs, which seem to hold a similar aesthetic to the material on Autumn, Again; the songs were more pop-oriented, with fewer pockets of noisiness and straightforward lyrics. With the mixing being what it was though, it was honestly a bit hard to tell what they’ll be like on the new record. So many of the little details that make A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s songs unique were lost in the sheer volume so typical of the venue, but perhaps this will be the first of many more shows. If nothing else, it served as a perfect reminder that A Sunny Day in Glasgow are still around. And that was a good memo to get, indeed.