Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic
Static And Silence
Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic (DGC ‘90) Rating: A-
Influenced by British bands such as The Smiths and the Cocteau Twins, and highly touted by legendary British DJ John Peel, the low key (and even lower profile) songwriting couple of David Gavurin and Harriet Wheeler immediately delivered this minor masterpiece at the turn of the decade. This charming debut album showcased a sound that many would follow, but few so successfully, led by Gavurin’s dreamy guitar jangle and Wheeler’s lovely little girl vocals. Wheeler’s lyrics concentrate on the mundane details of everyday life, but when she notes “you know desire’s a terrible thing” before defiantly adding “it’s my life!” her independent worldview sounds almost heroic. The gorgeously resigned ballad “Here’s Where The Story Ends” became a college radio hit, causing The Sundays to briefly become a hip underground name, but “Skin & Bones,” “Can’t Be Sure,” “You’re Not The Only One I Know,” and “My Finest Hour” are also pretty, unpretentious pop songs with winning melodies. The rhythm section of Paul Brindley (bass) and Patrick Hannan (drums) lends sympathetic support throughout, and they show just enough life when Gavurin turns up the swirling atmospherics to ensure that the album would rest somewhat uneasily within the "easy listening" section of your local record store. Although Gavurin strums consistently appealing melodies, it was Wheeler’s ethereal voice and personal lyrics that would especially influence bands such as The Cranberries and the endless stream of confessional singer-songwriters that would sprout up mid-decade. Unlike many of those super-serious artists, however, on enjoyable songs such as “Hideous Towns” and "A Certain Someone" The Sundays show off a delightfully offbeat sense of humor. Granted, a couple of songs ("I Won" and "Joy" and "Joy" come to mind) kinda pleasantly come and go, and the album doesn't deliver much in the way of excitement or variety, but these are minor flaws compared to the album's overwhelming strengths, as Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic modestly rises from peak to peak.
Blind (DGC ‘92) Rating: B
Nobody was bowled over, but Blind was a worthy follow-up whose songs were simply less memorable than on their stellar debut, though the band’s gorgeous overall sound remained very much intact. More somber and mellower as a whole, lines like “blood on my hands, when you looked around I couldn’t be found” hearken to a lost innocence, perhaps in part because the album was delayed by the band’s decision to manage themselves and the dissolution of their record label. However, what eventually surfaced satisfied most fans, as this perfectly named band continues to conjure images of lazy Sunday mornings in the English countryside. More than ever The Sundays pared down sound relies on Wheeler’s lovely, lilting voice, while Gavurin’s jangly guitar provides the seductive sonic backdrop for her musings, which The Rough Guide To Rock appropriately described as “a perfect soundtrack for late nights lamenting lost loves.” OK, so that description completely contracts my summer mornings statement, but the band's subtle, understated style fits either setting, and “I Feel,” “Goodbye,” “God Made Me,” “Love,” "What Do You Think?," and "Medicine" are admirable highlights from an album that rarely rises too high or falls too low. The album's most well known song is a pretty reading of The Rolling Stones’ “Wild Horses,” which was later featured in a beer commercial, thereby increasing The Sundays’ somewhat indifferent profile. Blind was far removed from what was going on in the mainstream at the time (i.e. grunge), and though it didn’t build much upon its more heralded predecessor’s strengths, it’s a credible second effort just the same. That said, some of these samey-sounding songs could’ve benefited from a livelier touch.
Static And Silence (DGC ‘97) Rating: A-
After five long years, during which time Harriet Wheeler and David Gavurin built a home studio and had a baby, The Sundays finally returned to public attention with Static And Silence. Despite the passage of time, not much has changed in the band’s approach, as Wheeler’s ethereal, girlish vocals again lead the way, counterbalanced by Gavurin’s appealing guitar sound. Fortunately, Wheeler’s lovely vocals are again a treat, and The Sundays do add some subtle touches to their signature sound. For example, the airy pop of “Summertime” (which should’ve been a smash had it been released in season) and “I Can’t Wait” are aided and abetted by upbeat horns. Elsewhere, slowly swaying string arrangements enhance several songs, while a catchy flute embellishes “Your Eyes.” There are other new wrinkles, such as the piano that adds the icing on the cake of the gorgeous “When I’m Thinking About You,” the funky rhythm that provides "Another Flavor," and even a brief guitar solo on “So Much.” Mostly, however, the band simply sticks to the leisurely style they excel at. The spare, pretty "Homeward," the catchy, dreamy pop of “Cry,” and the ghostly "Leave This City" are other highlights, and the album as a whole exudes an appealing warmth while adding the energy that I complained was lacking on the last album. The end result is another strong release from an admirably consistent band, though unfortunately it's been well over a decade of silence since.
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