[Please note: Press play above to hear the full stream of Sun Blood Stories’ Twilight Midnight Morning, which is out June 23. Thank you to the band for allowing me to host the stream, and I hope you enjoy it.]
At the moment in Sun Blood Stories‘ second full-length where it seems most likely that you finally have the album figured out — that’s when it turns. Twilight Midnight Morning, as a title, might well describe the varied moods of the release’s 10 tracks/50 minutes, but the actual front-to-back listening experience, from the count of three that seems to signal a dip into hypnosis to the fading guitar echoes that close, is more complex than a linear progression of hours, and experimental flourish of effects-laden viola from Judah Claffey, slide guitar, ambient feedback, drones, swirls, keys — whatever it might be — is never far off. There are stretches of Twilight Midnight Morning where the Boise, Idaho, five-piece revel in flat-out gorgeous post-rock melody-wash, as on the brooding contemplation of “Found Reasons Found Out,” with swirling guitar, dual vocal croon and a wide-open structure that, like much of the record, takes nothing away from its memorability or lessens the impression made.
Not every song has a hook but those that do, like early landmarks “West the Sun” and “Witch Wind,” showcase a swing and willingness to vibe that’s little short of masterful, guitarist Ben Kirby channeling a heavy psych Nick Cave on “West the Sun” as lap steel guitarist/vocalist Amber Pollard joins in, duet style, adding texture to the jam that’s about to unfold as pushed forward by drummer John Füst and given further nuance in the subtly meandering bass work of Nik Kososik. And that jam, when they get there, is beautiful, exploratory but not cloying, and as rich tonally as it is inviting. They push back to the verse and beyond, the 8:30 runtime gives “West the Sun” plenty of time to unfold in following the nighttime desertism of opener “Palace Mountain Mirage,” and though there’s a lucidity underlying — Kososik seeing to its care and maintenance — the lushness of the sounds Sun Blood Stories create is still just beginning to unfurl its full scope as the aforementioned “Found Reasons Found Out” turns its backwards intro forward to begin a linear build that remains sweet, dreamy and sonically free as it moves ahead toward consciousness.
Beginning quiet, spacious and lurching to life the way a swamp does the farther in one wades, “Witch Wind” is both the most straightforward inclusion on Twilight Midnight Morning and the most singular standout, though it’s worth mentioning that as much as its sultry call and response between Kirby and Pollard in the hook “I know, the way the witch wind blows,” to which she answers and he joins, “To the west, to the west,” resonates, it does nothing to interrupt the overarching flow of the album, which remains paramount, whichever way the wind is blowing, or even in that fuzz-topped moment when Kirby hits into a falsetto and the effect is so fucking cool over Kososik‘s righteous bassline that psychedelic supremacy feels inescapable. And that’s it, right there. That’s where you start to feel like you might have Sun Blood Stories figured out. But nope.
At just 1:40, “Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons in Space” is an ambient interlude of drone and cosmic hum, vague, echoing voice and raw spontaneity that one might even pass over the first time through the album, it’s so hypnotic, but is actually the point at which Sun Blood Stories stare expectation in the face and turn left to go around it, the subsequent “NighTremor” reestablishing a rhythmic footing with low end, tension in the drums and sparing guitar, but already the context has begun to shift. It will continue to do so after the peak of the track, as it devolves into echoes and ethereal swirl, Pollard‘s voice with it, and into the seven-minute dronefest of “Time Like Smoke,” which is the point at which, if Twilight Midnight Morning is a dream, then that dream takes a darker turn. There’s still a human element in it, distant echoes of voices whispering behind waves of feedback, slow notes, samples like half-forgotten memories appearing in unconsciousness, but it’s easy to imagine we’re pushing toward the “midnight” portion of the album’s title, and already it feels like it has been a significant journey with a ways still to go.
What makes a shift like “Time Like Smoke” work is the fact that Sun Blood Stories have basically set a context where anything is possible, sound-wise. It’s not a question of whether something fits — there’s room in the scope for anything they might conjure, and that includes the experimental, minimalist spirit of “Moon Song: Waxing,” which is the first of a three-part closing series finds Pollard singing far back behind swells of viola and eerie guitar, which comes forward particularly in the last of the three minutes to underscore the trance, which continues after bleeding directly into “Misery is Nebulous,” on which Füst‘s drums make a return after a lengthy absence and work their way forward in the mix complemented by atmospheric but wordless vocal melody.
And how else to finish but by stripping it all away? “Moon Song: Waning” does precisely that, Kirby running through simple lines of acoustic guitar and vocals with backing moans from Pollard, the two coming together in folkish style to “Sing sing sing sing to the fallen moon” at the end, a kind of foreboding echo of electric guitar notes surprising in their arrival but ultimately providing a cinematic kind of epilogue as they fade away, taking the record with it. With the amount of territory Sun Blood Stories cover, it’s easy enough to believe that Twilight Midnight Morning winds up north of the 50-minute mark, but the vitality and adventurousness of this material means it never drags (unless it wants to), and it never veers so far as to lose its way entirely. It is admirable all the more because it is so amorphous and so complex and so molten stylistically and yet cohesive in its presentation and acting almost to guide the listener through its varied bends and twists. The smoothness of its movement and the command that Sun Blood Stories ultimately show in steering its path are staggering, and the album winds up nothing short of a joy to take in over multiple return visits.