With a name like Sudden Death Over Time one might expect to get the darkest of music; whether downy or unyieldingly harsh, the name of the band alone has enough visceral power to intrigue you. However, you get neither the downy or unyieldingly harsh; what you do get with this debut, “SODT” (13 April 2010), is an infectious soundscape, the perfect balance between analogue and digital sounds, and one of the most cathartic visceral experiences… without vocals. I listened to the album twice before I really realized the power that Shaun Frandsen (the sole member of Sudden Death Over Time) is able to generate – and after a day of listening to the album, I appreciate and am blown away by its visceral power. Though it may be easy to say that this is electronic meets shoegaze, I venture to travel another road. This is post-punk, not post-punk revival. Think of a contemporary band like Editors; Frandsen understands the power of the understated, the ambient, and how to generate emotional power from repetition. Like Editors, Frandsen is not ripping off some past trend that is proving viable for artists, instead he is adding to a tradition, a genre, which continues to unfurl.
There is an important trick to modern instrumental (rock) music that some artists have not figured out: you cannot write music the same way you would when a vocalist is involved, but you cannot go so far out of the box that it becomes inaccessible and confusing. And many instrumental artists commit the first mistake, and some the second… Sudden Death Over Time commits none. Though there are no obvious divisions of verse-chorus-etc… there are distinct, sometimes repeated, elements to the music. The ambient keys fill in any holes in the soundscape, while the guitar arrangements accent the visceral power of the keys. Sometimes the guitar is played the exact way that original post-punk rockers played the six-string bass when employed as a guitar (think Robert Smith), sometimes played in a new distinct way. The rhythm section, sometimes danceable, sometimes rocking, is straight out-and-out post-punk.
The album opens with “Raindrops On My Shades,” which is lush with a beautifully strummed acoustic guitar (a lost art) and the traditional post-punk electric lead guitar, the fast-paced beat and the overwhelming soundscape sucks you right into this journey of eight brilliant songs. “Take It This Far,” the second track and shortest on the album, introduces some interesting, disco inflected, percussion, and slips right into “Summertide”: this is one of those songs best described as a sigh. And then “Blue Sky Night,” my latest obsession, begins sinisterly with an interplay between electronic noises, but when the beat drops you are transported, almost as if floating … or is that falling… through the sky. With the expected bass-line for the rhythm, there is a second subtle “bass” for melody, Frandsen brought out his bag of tricks for this number: everything is here – from the ambient keys to savvy contemporary programming, coupled with piercing guitar playing and a piano at the end, this is stuff of great arrangements. With so many elements running wild, Frandsen reins them all into perfect balance and unity.
I am tempted to go track-by-track on this one… but I hope I have said enough already for you to want to take the plunge into Sudden Death Over Time. “SODT” is the biggest surprise of the year thus far, raising that proverbial bar even higher. Shaun Frandsen is not paying homage or simply reviving the past, he is engaging his influences (from Joy Division to The Cure, from Suede to My Bloody Valentine) in a sort of musical dialogue, he is expanding tradition, and he has delivered an album that should not escape anyone’s radar. Head over to iTunes and get this one for your collection. Like me, you may find yourself wishing that this album was longer – and this is no complaint, but the highest compliment.
1. Raindrops On My Shades
2. Take It This Far
4. Blue Sky Night
6. Honeymoon in Manchester
7. Coldheart Tempo
8. Stars In The Sea
Keep up with Sudden Death Over Time at the band's MySpace page and Facebook.
Here is a sound (no video, just a picture) clip of “Honeymoon In Manchester” from the SuddenDeathOverTime1 Youtube Channel.