Sunset The Glowing City

[Autobus; 2008]

Rating: 4/5

Styles: chamber-y, drone-y, psychedelic pop
Others: Olivia Tremor Control in scope, but the sound is kind of slippery

Whether it was meticulously planned down to the second or just happened this way, The Glowing City is massive. Sucker comes in about 15 seconds shy of a full load, and we all know that’s rare in the age of the CD. Bill Baird and company seem to feel that, well, if we’ve got 80 minutes to use up, we might as well use them. And despite how many fully-loaded CDs have whispered in my direction in the past -- “Hey, psst, I should really be about 33 minutes long” -- and despite how assured I was that The Glowing City would really be no different — it is different. The damn thing is straight-up focused.

Anyone who puts out this sort of monolith of an album could pretty understandably be labeled a ‘prolific’ songwriter. But Baird is not satisfied with that: in January, the band released the murky Pink Clouds cassette; a scant few months later, the band released the similarly huge Bright Blue Dream. It’s a glut of material, to be sure, but wading through it all is part of the experience that is Sunset’s recorded output. If I’m getting it right, all three releases are part of the same song cycle, featuring colors and Baird’s fictitious but perfect girl Sandy. All this output makes sense, though, as the sudden implosion of Baird’s old band Sound Team and the subsequent explosion of Sunset would lead me to believe that Baird’s been sitting on these songs for some time. Indeed, The Glowing City recycles a couple songs from other releases by giving them new arrangements (“Your Eyes Are Mirrors” being the highlight) and finally documents a few more that’ve been in the live repertoire for a while, albeit in significantly different forms.

Sunset’s recorded sound is difficult to pin down, exactly, and though I should be able to list some parallels, I can’t. The Olivia Tremor Control’s albums are brought to mind, if only by their length and ‘psychedelic’ connotations, but the sound here is cleaner and rounder and lacking the heavy emphasis on transitions. There’s clearly a huge Beatles influence on Sunset but… they don’t sound like The Beatles. It’s even a bit different from the palette of sounds found on Bright Blue Dream -- here it’s tighter and more focused in general; drums are still important (and produced incredibly) but don’t have the same emphasis as they did previously. The drones that slowly seeped to the top over the course of BBD are similarly less important here. The whole album is one mass of ringing, twisting, buzzing noises that are nigh unidentifiable.

And it seems strange that Sunset’s clearest statement yet can be just that and also just as slippery as the releases that came before. It’s difficult to separate the albums, and, of course, that’s the point. Objectively, it’s hard to say which is really the ‘best’ of them, as I suspect much of the impact of The Glowing City is dulled by its release being so close to that of Bright Blue Dream. On its own, The Glowing City isn’t as compulsively listenable as I found the previous albums to be, even though it’s the most song-oriented. And although each one is a fantastic standalone album, the albums do work best as one three-hour monstrosity. Maybe Baird got his chronology wrong; maybe this is The Empire Strikes Back.

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