More Lifelike

Sunjacket

Independent release, 2021

http://sunjacket.net

REVIEW BY: Vish Iyer

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/19/2021

The first few listens of More Lifelike is a blur; it is nearly impossible to remember any song once the album is over. It is not that this record is disorienting or tiring, even though the music on it is complex. The numbers here don’t offer much – if any – in way of hook to make the music linger in the listener’s head.

This lack of ear-wormy moments can be looked at as a positive, since this Chicago-based trio’s music is best described as “post-rock,” where nonconformity is a good thing. But for anyone who is familiar with the band’s previous release, their debut  Mantra, it was post-rock/experimental rock through and through. However, amid the non-straightforward song structures and an obsessive proclivity to use the powers of the studio as another musical instrument, Mantra left just enough room for hooks , resulting in a disc that is unconventional but still somewhat accessible.

Sunjacket has certainly changed course on More Lifelike. Mantra part two it most definitely, is not. This is a darker, more challenging album. Nevertheless, the near-absence of ear-candy moments is not the only difference. The bigger change is that my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 More Lifelike is a synth-heavy record. There were guitars on Mantra, but here, you have to search for guitars, which are few and far between. Not just that, but the synth sound itself is huge and ominous, looming like a dark cloud throughout the album.

Following the opening ambient instrumental “Gate,” the unofficial opening track “In My Head” starts in an LCD Soundsystem fashion with ginormous synths and heavy drums. The music, which is slightly eerie and tense, is pacified by Bryan Kveton’s gentle vocals, which have a “pop singer” manner of delivery. Replace him with Nick Jonas and the overall feel of the song probably won’t change.

If there is one thing to nitpick about More Lifelike, it is the vocal style, which can be pleasant to a fault. The band does some amazing things with the music composition: the songs always keep you guessing, and there is nothing else that’s out there that sounds like this album. If you take cuts like “Take It Apart” and “No Coast,” the vocals are great, but lack the intensity that the music demands of them. As a result, at times, the record sounds more ambient than it should be. On the other hand, on the slower tracks like “More Lifelike” and “Ride,” the calming vocals work great, sounding soulful and mysterious.

Going back the point about the initial listens of this disc: when you’re trying to find your bearings, you find it about half way into the album, on “Machine.” There just aren’t enough words that can describe how awesome this cut is. It captures your attention the very first time you listen to it, and it is the ear-candy of all ear-candies. This is a groovy track with an irresistible beat /synth combination and a dancey, disco vibe. With discernible drums and guitars and a relatively direct structure, it is the simplest number on this record. In addition, Kveton’s smooth vocals sound absolutely fabulous. It is ironic that “Machine,” which is one of the group’s most “normal” tracks, is also possibly their best.

Sunjacket’s studio wizardry, attention to detail, and atypical arrangements is their strength, and they play to it very well on More Lifelike. If only there were more songs like “Machine,” it would have made a difference between what this record is – cool and fascinating – and what it could have been: a masterpiece.

Rating: A-

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