It’s been almost exactly two years since Sacramento musical mesmerists Sun Valley Gun Club released their practically perfect, self-titled sophomore album. That record was absolutely my favorite album of 2016, and remains one of my favorite records to this day, getting almost as much play in 2018 as when I first heard it. The only times I ever really stopped listening really, were the occasional desperate attempts to try to avoid getting sick of those songs, which I quickly discovered was something I didn’t really need to worry about at all!
So when I first discovered there was a new SVGC record, I was pretty excited. I had been hearing the band perform some of these songs live for a while, but when gathered all up together, as The Water, The Stars, they revealed themselves to be yet another pitch perfect collection of classic indie rock, filtered through SVGC’s unique sonic lens: a hook-heavy hybrid of languorous twang and noise pop crunch, each song impossibly catchy on its own, but even more compelling as part of the whole. Like with the previous album, I had to fight the urge to simply listen to individual songs over and over and over endlessly. But honestly, I didn’t really fight all that hard...
The opening track “If You Would Only Wait” perfectly encapsulates the Sun Valley Gun Club sound, a galloping blast of jangle and crunch, driven by distorted vocals, fuzzy guitars and some dizzyingly loose-limbed drumming. Hooks everywhere, the bridge as catchy as the verse, the verse as catchy as the chorus, the band deftly delivering the occasional feedback drenched squall or slipping into syncopated, almost metallic heft. And of course, one of the most distinctive parts of SVGC’s sound, their tendency to take what is essentially a pop song and stretch it WAY out at the end, letting it transform into something much more psychedelic and dreamily droney, a sprawling, hazy and heavenly psych jam that could stretch out forever, and I would not mind one bit.
As if the opener wasn’t good enough, “She Is Gone” might be one of the best songs SVGC have ever written, which is saying a lot for a band whose catalog is essentially made up of coulda/shoulda/woulda been stone cold classics. Laconic vox draped over woozy jangle, a sweetly slacker indie rock that finds the perfect middle ground between Pavement and Built To Spill, laced with some of the most divine background harmonies, the whole song demonstrating the band’s unparalleled pop-song mastery, still channeling the nineties, but making that sound wholly and totally their own.
And that’s just two songs in. The rest of the record unfurls just as dramatically, from the slow burn of “Falling Apart”, replete with spidery guitar melodies and a seriously crushing breakdown, again liberally laced with feedback and impossibly catchy hooks, to “Goodbye Columbus”, which sounds like a twangier take on unsung San Diego math pop crew Heavy Vegetable, to the last-call mope pop, countrified slow-jam of “Years After All”, an hypnotic see-saw between the Beatles-beholden Weezer-shred of San Francisco pop legends the Ovens, and a drowsy and drunken, sleepy smolder, laced with lush horns that lend the song an almost funereal Calexico vibe, all dusty and dusky.
As the record draws to a close, the sound winds down as well, “Time” takes the mumbled country of the late great Souled American, and lets it blossom into late night, Wilco-worthy dirge pop, the group effortlessly infusing that last-call melancholy with the sort of pathos more often paired with sonic bombast, instead of subtle, subdued songsmithery. And finally, the record closes with “I Saw A Pigeon,” lush with organ and horns, another sweetly maudlin dirge, that slowly builds to a fierce finale, a bombastic big finish: swirling squalls of guitar shred, raspy emotive vox and soaring horns. It’s like the final number of some big production, indie rock musical, that just as quickly fades into silence with one final peal of feedback.
As a whole, The Water, The Stars ambitiously expands on the group’s already impressively expansive sound, exploring a more diverse sonic palette: electric piano, slide guitar, organ and those aforementioned horns, as well as displaying the group’s ever-evolving songwriting and arranging. SVGC manage to make all of these songs sound oh so warm and familiar, but somehow at the same time, manage to make that familiarity impossibly exciting and unpredictable.
Since the very first time I heard Sun Valley Gun Club, I was totally perplexed that somehow, this band was not hugely popular. I’d see them play in front of 50 or 100 people, but the sound seemed impossibly incongruous to me. It was the sound, and the songs, of a band that should be playing huge festivals, selling out multiple nights at midsize venues, a group who should have music writers everywhere slavering, and blogs and magazines losing their ever loving shit. And every song on every one of their records should be finding their way onto mixtapes and playlists and should probably never, ever leave your stereo. The Water, The Stars only reinforces that impression, along with my belief, that Sun Valley Gun Club could very well, and SHOULD very well, be your new favorite band.