Leeds based band The Sunshine Underground first appeared in 2006 when debut Raise The Alarm thrust them into the indie rock spotlight. It was fairly well received too, garnering mainly favourable reviews with comparisons to New York’s The Rapture as well as London’s Klaxons being a couple of obvious peers.
Follow-up Nobody’s Coming To Save You in 2010 attracted a more diverse reception, sounding akin to early The Killers before they went down mediocre street, SU finding themselves tagged with the New Rave label in the process, their indie dance numbers making it cool to be seen pulling shapes on the dancefloor again.
With the release of the eponymous third studio effort they’ve gone down the increasingly popular PledgeMusic route, with £3,000 netting you a full private gig. The lad rock, baggy dance flavour of the past was never overwhelming but it’s diminished further as the boys bury themselves in a more electronica dominated zone.
Recorded in Sheffield with notable producer Ross Orton (Arctic Monkeys, M.I.A.), ideas for the new album were being formed back in 2012 and it’s Orton’s presence that has helped mould songs in a slightly different direction, finally settling on the synth-heavy overall sound.
First single Don’t Stop is indeed soaked in synths. A pulsing beat, accompanied by intermittent additional percussion sounds throughout, gives an insight into what to expect from the album. There are far more blips and bleeps than you would normally associate with the band as it heads towards Fujiya & Miyagi waters whilst retaining a stronger vocal presence, all set to a simple and insistent monotone core before a guitar finally appears for a late flurry.
Album opener Start is more heavily rooted in dance, another pulsing synth blending with a constant mid-tempo drum beat and touches of electronica with laddish rock vocals punching a presence above: it’s an infectious six minutes of catchiness that’s impossible to remain motionless to. Finally We Arrive could be the band’s motto such is the average four year cycle between albums – another dance flavoured cut destined to get feet tapping – and third track Nothing To Fear continues the impressive start, a thudding bass sitting pretty amongst another synth soundscape as ‘80s synth-pop heads off in a more dance-focused direction.
The seven minute Battles opens to a simple two-note undulation for its minimalist intro, subtle percussion and echoey vocals take the track forward through more percussive clicks; ultimately though it never really gets going. The dance beat picks up once more for the appropriately named Nightlife, a merest hint at Depeche Mode’s Enjoy The Silence appearing before another catchy number takes shape, its bouncy beat leading to a synth heavy outro. Another pulsing beat introduces The Same Old Ghosts with a whiff of Daft Punk before stabbed synth chords accompany a ticking beat throughout its lengthy intro; subtle flecks of guitar then appear before an almost anthemic chorus sends the song soaring to greater heights.
Trio’s Da Da Da from 1982 is recalled for the opening casio-calculator-like early synth notes of It Is Only You before the track heads off in an OMD direction, another simple yet effective chorus providing more catchiness. Similarities to The Human League’s classic synth sound open penultimate track Turn It On as another highlight reveals itself. Here Comes The Storm then closes the album, moving from a subtle start to a warm, synth chord backed canvas with an intermittent tribal drum pattern helping to lift the song as it aims for the sky during its uplifting conclusion.
The Sunshine Underground has managed to take the band’s signature big hooks and beats and transform them into something bigger and more relevant, Orton’s contribution a key aspect. The dance beat prevalent in many tracks will get feet moving and the warm synth soundscapes will uplift even the most despondent soul; after the Arctic Monkeys’ hugely successful AM from last year, it would appear that Orton has helped weave more magic once again. This is a welcome return.