Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, Spectra Spirit: Riders on the Lion’s Roar

Some days it just feels like we’re all living in the echo of Dead Meadow’s ringing tones. The impression is reinforced by the full-yet-somehow-minimalist-sounding Detroit trio, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor, whose fashion-worthy, restrained distortion blends the shoegaze wanderings of the aforementioned East Coast expats with some of The Doors’ storm-riding slinkiness (Baltimore‘s The Flying Eyes come to mind as compatriots in that regard). The album is Spectra Spirit, and it’s Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor’s second self-release behind a 2009 self-titled, comprised of nine varied tracks of tilt-your-head-back cave pop, open-spaced Americana and the kind of neo-psychedelic spirit fostered in Tee Pee sub-hipster bands like Quest for Fire and Weird Owl. Periodic hooks like “You go downtown to the hole in your brain” from the centerpiece “The Hole in Your Brain” serve as landmarks for would-be travelers, and though at this point the line between poser indie and American heavy psych is about as blurry as a hipstamatic press shot, Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor’s warmth of tone and occasional shift into thickly-delivered bliss makes Spectra Spirit work on its own terms. Greatly aided by a natural-feeling production, the songs can’t help but flow smoothly in themselves and between each other, setting a vibe of grander exploration without ever really going full-on experimental or lapsing into more self-indulgence than is warranted by the style.

And “style” is a keyword when it comes to Spectra Spirit. As their European counterparts seem to be morphing into jam-based, lengthier compositions, American acts like Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor present a darker take. The later cut “Sweet Girl Insanity” is the longest on the album at 5:46 and has probably the most effective build of any of the songs here, with drummer/backing vocalist Rick Sawoscinski announcing the payoff with the loudest snare hits on the whole of Spectra Spirit and guitarist/vocalist Sean Morrow clicking whichever of what I can only assume is a vast collection of pedals puts his tone into full-rock mode. By contrast, bassist/backing vocalist Eric Oppitz (who also handles organ when there’s organ to handle) stands out more in the song’s subdued beginning, cutting through the subtle swirl with an anchoring tone that not only keeps the rhythm, but enhances the atmosphere. Earlier, in the upbeat opening duo of “Untitled” and “Black Mind” – the latter which features Oppitz’s long-held organ notes – the bass occurs as part of a larger barrage of noise, and it’s absent from the acoustic-based “Howlers on the Roam,” but where it’s brought to the fore, Spectra Spirit is fuller and more effective for it. Morrow’s guitar leads most of the material, unsurprisingly, and his vocals are responsible for much of Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor’s chic feel. The Jim Morrison comparison has already been hinted at and is worth reiterating for Morrow’s delivery of “Howlers on the Roam” and the post-centerpiece “Did You Hear the Lion Roar, Mr. Wig,” the latter of which sets its late-night boozery and pill-popping against a backdrop of late ‘60s echoing and would fall utterly flat in its first half as the low point of the album were it not for Oppitz’s work on bass.

“Did You Hear the Lion Roar, Mr. Wig” is redeemed in its more subtle second half, though the preceding “The Hole in Your Brain” and “Center of a Velvet Room” and the following “Sweet Girl Insanity” are stronger in both concept and execution, the former in part because of the interplay of Sawaoscinski’s and Oppitz’s backing vocals among Morrow’s leads and the latter because of its consistent, foreboding low end. “Sweet Girl Insanity” seems also to shine for the space it allows Morrow to work his vocals rhythmically as well as melodically, building a tension that finds later release in the instrumentation, which even at its heaviest is never completely unrestrained. The winds that blow through “Live in My Mind” – another anchor chorus – would appear to be working against the more uptempo, active ethic the song presents, but in fact they serve as continuity between it and “Sweet Girl Insanity,” subtly bridging what might otherwise be an awkward transition – although, the flow of Spectra Spirit is well-established by this point late in the record, so one might just as easily have been inclined to go with it leading into the jabbing closer “Green Eyes and Dream.” Positioned as the last cut, it is the boiling over of the tension the rest of the album has been weaving around, Oppitz’s bass quick along with Sawascinski’s ride cymbal at the start, to foreshadow the more active drive to come.

Organ, guitar noise, repetitive lyrics from Morrow and finally a second cycling through end Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor’s most physically visceral song and the album as a whole, perhaps somewhat unceremoniously, but effectively nonetheless and in line with some of the more atmospheric moments. There is some genre straddling that will be familiar to inducted psych heads, but Spectra Spirit is not without its depth as well, and the nuances that come out on repeat listens make the album worth investigating for anyone willing to make the fierce commitment of, say, the free download Sisters of Your Sunshine Vapor are offering through their website. They have work to do in terms of distinguishing themselves creatively from much of American neo-psych’s current flux, but I hear nothing in these songs that sounds like it could be keeping them from doing that work going forward.

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