Review & Full Album Premiere: Sun Voyager, Seismic Vibes

Sun Voyager Seismic Vibes

[Click play above to stream Sun Voyager’s Seismic Vibes in its entirety. Album is out April 20 on King Pizza Records.]

Here’s a post from May 2014 about how Sun Voyager‘s debut album would be out that summer. The band had two demos to their name at that point — early 2013’s Cosmic Tides and late 2013’s Mecca (review here) — and though it turn out their first long-player would in no way be out that summer or any time between then and now, they filled the intervening years via splits with Greasy Hearts (discussed here) and The Mad Doctors (review here), as well as 2015’s Lazy Daze EP (review here). The Orange County, New York, heavy psych outfit discussed the making of their full-length and even went so far as to post the opening track “Trip” in early 2017. So to say that Seismic Vibes, which at last sees release through King Pizza Records, has been a while in the making is maybe understating it a little.

They’ve kept consistent playing live shows, and since Lazy Daze came out they’ve pared down their lineup from a two-guitar four-piece to a trio — though in addition to the core of vocalist/guitarist Carlos Francisco, bassist/guitarist/vocalist Stefan Mersch and drummer Kyle Beach, the album’s credits also list Evan Heinze on keyboard and Sam Bey on percussion; that trio may or may not be in a process of expansion — and between that and leaking tracks from the originally self-titled Seismic Vibes, one could hardly accuse them of laziness in bringing the record to fruition. Sometimes these things just take a while. Tracked by Paul Ritchie down the Jersey Shore and mastered by Alan Douches, the eight-song/34-minute offering that has resulted from whatever arduous process was undertaken can only be considered worth the effort.

Maybe that’s not saying much, but the point to be made is that one can hear on Seismic Vibes the growth that’s taken place in Sun Voyager‘s sound even since Lazy Daze, which opened with “God is Dead,” a song that’s turned into the extended, jammed-out closer on the full-length. That track is the only carry-over between the two outings, and as one might hope, Sun Voyager use the opportunity of their first full-length to showcase the dynamic they’ve worked hard through the last several years to build. The keys and vocal arrangement on a song like “Hair Brained” speak to an increase in complexity overall, not to mention the sitar-sounding guitar solo that follows and the effects swirl surrounding, but even the opening salvo of “Trip,” “Open Road” and “Caves of Steel” seem to signal a driven purposefulness of intent — that is, the fact that these tracks aren’t just cobbled together, but placed consciously to affect the listener’s experience of the record. All under four minutes and pointedly uptempo, the first three tracks work quickly to establish the momentum that will carry the listener through the ensuing dynamic that unfolds.

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Beginning with an unassuming hum, “Trip” is among the catchiest hooks on Seismic Vibes, tambourine and all, and the keyboard-laced “Open Road” holds a tension in its drums that drives mellower verses into the more densely-fuzzed chorus, keyboards filling out the melody during the verse and the cacophonous-but-quick payoff at the end. Mersch‘s bass and Francisco‘s guitar swirl begins “Caves of Steel,” but this too unveils itself quickly as a fuzz riot, and thrusts into tom runs backing a hook repeating the title line and a jammy ending that cuts short at about 3:10 but sounds like it could just as easily keep going into perpetuity. Though it too is short at 3:38, there’s a marked change in pace as “Stellar Winds” comes on, and for the first time, Sun Voyager introduce their more languid side; a sound more derived from shoegaze than the spaced-out semi-punk of “Caves of Steel” just prior. Francisco‘s voice is well-suited to drift, which is not something every singer can pull off, and though “Stellar Winds” is mellower than the first three cuts, it still offers a sense of build and turns directly into “Hair Brained,” which is arguably the speediest and most active inclusion here, reminiscent as it is of some of early Nebula‘s frenetic stoner punk.

As noted, the keys are a factor in fleshing out “Hair Brained,” and they play a role in offsetting the bouncing rhythm as it makes its way to a winding cold-stop finish, and it might be the keys as well that tie “Hair Brained” to the subsequent “Too Much,” which is an immediate switch in method from its predecessor and the most open-feeling song on Seismic Vibes, molten and hypnotic in a way that much of the record has simply chosen not to be. At five minutes, its roll is second in length only to the aforementioned “God is Dead,” and the two tracks are separated by the 3:35 “Psychic Lords,” a slowdown leading to the quiet/loud tradeoffs as Sun Voyager find a place for themselves in a niche of cosmic grunge that calls back to the hooks earlier on the album without giving up the expansion that’s happened since.

The start of “God is Dead” is a bit jarring coming out of the subdued end of “Psychic Lords,” and I suspect it will be all the more for anyone who encountered Lazy Daze, as it was a standout there, but in this redone, expanded version, it provides a fitting summary of just about everything Seismic Vibes delivers, with a jammy feel underscoring forward drive, shifts in tempo and a controlled psychedelic sensibility that’s light on self-indulgence and still manages to feel like it’s exploring new terrain. One would be remiss in not noting that though it’s been some time in its realization, this is still Sun Voyager‘s debut album, and yes, there is room for the band to continue to grow into their sound, to refine their balance of volume and tempo and straightforward and open structures, but the core of songwriting is there as it has been for the last half-decade, and there’s little chance Seismic Vibes won’t end up as one of 2018’s best first LPs. As a fan of the band, I’m just glad it finally happened.

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