Of the many sonic wonders purveyed by Montreal quartet Suuns, the greatest may be their ability to craft memorable hooks and melodies out of strange, unexpected or unpleasant noises. They’re not one of those electronic or industrial acts that makes a shtick out of the practice by using drill sounds or clashing metal or samples of factory noises; they’re more likely to make it out of a skin-piercing guitar tone or some weird wubbly synth sounds or stomach-rumbling low frequencies. And while the band has so often been described as “a rock band making electronic music” (or vice-versa) that it’s almost become cliche, the theory holds water: It’s music that’s played (as opposed to programmed) that’s more about textures and shapes and interlocking parts, drones and repetition; similarly, there’s little soloing or any conventional rock style in any of the musicians’ techniques, yet it’s a rock sound.
All of which makes the band’s music seem more cerebral and difficult and less immediate than it usually is, and that’s the most remarkable thing of all: A song that can almost be termed “pretty” will be followed by one based around what sounds like the landing gear of a giant spaceship opening— as guitarist Joe Yarmush put it in one of the band’s bios, “It’s pop music, but sitting in this evil space.” Flashes of Krautrock, My Bloody Valentine, Spiritualized and Clinic are present, but Suuns found their voice long ago and continues to refine it.
While the group’s first two albums, 2010’s “Zeroes QC” and 2013’s “Images Du Futur,” were solid and defined their sound, the arrival of Grammy-winning producer John Congleton — whose wildly diverse resume ranges from St. Vincent’s self-titled breakthrough album to R. Kelly — on 2016’s “Hold/Still” vaulted them into a whole other realm. He’s back for “Felt,” the band’s fourth full-length, and again the songs are sharper and more melodically refined, yet just as jarring: the overlapping elements will include a mosquito-like guitar line, a simple but rock-solid rhythm, symmetrical synth patterns and Ben Shemie’s sneering, nasal vocals. Yet there’s an almost jazz-like understatement in the playing, a commitment to the entirety of the sound, that’s rare in rock bands — and they can lay down a ferociously funky groove, as demonstrated on the opening track “Look No Further” and especially the slinky “Baseline.”
The group’s artful combination of beauty and ugliness, familiarity and not-always-pleasant surprises has reached a new peak with “Felt.”
“Felt” is out Friday, March 2 on Secretly Canadian Records.