Montreal’s Suuns are one of those experimental bands who craft their songs with just enough semblance of structure to keep you coming back. They’re noisy, harsh, and atonal at times, but they don’t do it for the sake of being weird. There’s a much grander, more sinister vision on Hold/Still, like an opera being played on broken down machinery. It’s an album that will demand your attention, and then challenge you to pick out the little wonders that Suuns have thrown into their brooding sonic landscape.
The first thing that immediately jumps out from the record is the band’s sense of rhythm. Though they don’t often veer from traditional time signatures, their songs have a pulse that viscerally connects with the listener. It’s hypnotic at times, like on “Resistance” and “Instrument.” Other times, it makes you want to move: the gurgling interplay between the synth and drums on “Paralyzer” will surely make you lurch forward in unison.
The guitar work is also really essential to the band’s particular sound. They rarely approach the instrument in any normal way on Hold/Still, using it instead to interpret thoughts of impending doom through sound. Some examples would be the out-of-control-train slide work on “UN-NO,” and the walls-closing-in picking on the album’s lead single, “Translate.” Still, the guitar weaves into the rhythm effortlessly, only really popping out when the time is right. It’s a part of the greater musical interplay that emphasizes how well Suuns work together as a band.
Halfway in it becomes clear that Hold/Still is really a psychedelic album, albeit in a very dark way. Suuns are very good at using what they’ve got to come up with a myriad of trippy, sometimes scary sounds that spill out of the album. But they’re also very good at convincing us that those sounds make sense. A song like “Brainwash,” for example, seems bizarre at first. But by the end of the song, they have us believing that those pretty chords and sentimental lyrics fit perfectly over that nightmarish machine stomp. The song is definitely true to its own name.
Sometimes on Hold/Still, Suuns venture to play a normal song. They get a bit riffy near the end of “Instrument,” and they even fit a guitar solo into “Nobody Can Save Me Now” (even though it’s a characteristically weird one). Since they aren’t actually musical ramblers, this doesn’t come as a huge surprise. They’ve meticulously crafted an atmosphere and a statement that stays remarkably consistent throughout the album. What it is they’re trying to say is a mystery to me, but I get the feeling they want it that way.