The 12 (or so) Records of Xmas: Sully – Bright Lights

Sully - Bright Lights

[a.k.a. #11 of However Many I Care to List, in No Particular Order: Albums That I Have Listened To Both Intermittently And Incessantly, That I Imagine I Will Continue To Listen To Periodically For The Remainder Of My Life, Which I Consider To Be The Seminal Works Of (Or Most Accessible Entry Points To) Musical Artists Whom I Believe Have Been Woefully Underrated And Criminally Underrepresented In The Modern Music Canon At Large, And Which Also At Some Point While Playing I Have Very Likely Been Asked To Turn Down or Turn Off]

Why you like me I’ll never know…

O Canada! How elusive your muses prove… Sully was a 7-(or 5-?)member indie rock collective hailing from Ottowa, led by the peculiar Becke Gainforth, whose vocals (not unlike Elizabeth Fraser’s of the Cocteau Twins) are probably actual words, but often seem like syllables adrift, phonemes in search of a word, vowels without houses…

Instrumentally, Sully’s music is exceedingly complex, each band member doing their best to contribute as much virtuosity as possible, yet never coming off as noodly or needlessly “prog” (helped by a compositional restraint the songwriter in me often wishes I could exercise, limiting most of their tracks to 3 or 4 minutes in length). They share threads in common with BroadcastStereolab, and early Metric, bands that to some extent were reaching for sounds from the past (in particular, the original psychedelic sounds of America and France in the late 60’s), while also intent on making those sounds into something never heard when that past was still the present.

In 1995, Sully independently released their first album (apparently entitled Living Room, which I have yet to hear, unable to locate in any form), followed two years later by their second, I Have Much to Report, on Toronto independent label Random Sound, which was to be re-released the following year when they signed to Nettwerk, Canada’s musical launching pad to the rest of the world’s ears.

Sully - I Have Much to Report
The two CD bonus tracks, both Controlbox remixes, are, as they say, off the chain.

On first listen, I found IHMtR somewhat confounding, particularly for a major label debut: equals parts precision and fury, stronger in soundscapes than song forms, waves of noise gathering, crashing, and ebbing, far more Spiritualized than Serge Gainsbourg… It’s a solid effort, to be sure, and well worth revisiting, but not exactly a picture of “accessibility” as albums go.

In 2000, the golden age of Napster, I checked up on them, and found a host of newly recorded demos that displayed a marked evolution. Still swirling with intricate rhythms and chromatically-flavored melodies, these new songs brought their structures to the surface, laying plain the sense of the actual band jamming in a single room, and sounding all the better for it. The finished versions of these tracks would become their third (or, until I can find the first, second) album, Bright Lights.

This Video’s Called “Low Budget.”

Every track here is packed with ideas, inventively executed, flawlessly finished. One can always return to the roiling cauldron of their previous record if the need arises (and it sometimes does), but here their true genius as a group is most clearly on display. The smattering of downloaded demos that didn’t ultimately end up on Bright Lights’ tracklist show that the band still had plenty of potential left to explore, but sadly, their rumored follow-up record never materialized, and evidence of them on the internet these days is scant at best (I had to create the featured image of vocalist Becke by screencapping a paused frame from one of the above videos). Still, I prefer not to think of their fate as a mysterious musical dead end, but rather as a perfectly preserved cul de sac: a happy place to drive your mind and do copious donuts.

By now needless to say, but there is nowhere to hear this album online. Used CD copies are priced on Amazon Music at nearly $200. So, once again, if you are curious, hit me up on the DM and I will provide.

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