For the un-weary listener, Talk Normal may sound like a world unto themselves, albeit a rather small one, even in the supposedly anything-goes yet simultaneously conformist Brooklyn indie music scene. Just take a moment and you’ll realize there are few readily visible acts that are looking to no-wave New York or its many and varied stylistic adherents as a source of inspiration. And yet this observation may be trivial when considering why, on their second full-length effort Sunshine, guitarist Sarah Register and drummer Andrya Ambro are heard just keeping at it, with a minimum of alteration — as if there were any needed — from their debut Sugarland.
If anything, then, Sunshine perhaps reflects the sound of Talk Normal growing increasingly comfortable with themselves, their music, and the place they hold among their contemporaries, especially among the lucky few who get any type of exposure at all. Sure, there are minor gestures — snippets, teases — toward comprehensible pop sparsely spread throughout, yet it may all be incidental, a consequence of sorts from the improvement in production value. For the most part, Talk Normal fit into the cut-and-paste nature for which their musical arrangements have come to be known. And there’s no hiding the work within the music Register and Ambro are making: it’s difficult to distinguish between the tracks or even from those on Sugarland, a creative output that may find a kindred spirit in the rust-worn, corrosive textures of those materials that were oftentimes used in process art of the later 20th century. What has been produced must contend with how it has been produced, as it is, laid bare, even if the former more often overshadows the latter.
Sunshine accordingly stirs to life with a faint but growing drone of what sounds like crickets chirping, which only reaches its first blast of pedal-happy, wall-of-noise guitars after uneven fits and starts on “Lone General.” “XO” follows with an altogether otherworldly, indifferent, and un-human (or inhumane) drive, backed by mechanically consistent percussion, reminiscent of early Wire or the cold, primitive technology employed by Al Jourgensen in the mid 1980s with Ministry. Elsewhere, “Hot Water Burns” is the closest Register and Ambro come to maintaining a consistent melody, making it their own by stretching and distorting anything possibly recognizable as they go along. And the album closer “Baby Your Heart’s Too Big” is itself closed out by an outro that would put any hardcore shoegazer to shame while simultaneously reaching back to and evoking the pseudo-post-apocalyptic nihilism characteristic of the band’s foremost no-wave influences.
Sunshine is over much too fast, eight tracks clocking in at roughly 45 minutes. Or maybe it just feels like we haven’t been given enough time: Talk Normal invoke the bare and abstract, not the fully rendered or figured, and it feels like they are making not only the kind of music we never thought we’d be missing out on, but also the kind that would be hard to live without.