Last year, Montreal heavyweights Godspeed You! Black Emperor released an album largely defined by the Printemps érable, or “Maple Spring”, a massive 400,000-person march/movement on the streets of Montreal protesting massive tuition hikes in the education system. Fellow denizens Suuns recorded a set of songs right around the same time, while the streets ran red with students and supporters. If GY!BE harnessed the collective emotions of almost half a million people at once, Suuns are more interested in numbing the emotions of half a million people — one at a time. The short vignettes of smokey, neo-futuristic post-punk on Images Du Futur are so slippery and acerbic that they could hardly connect two good friends on a long road trip. But you, Sunns, some headphones, and a passing interest in “change”? You might not even need the oxycodone.
Suuns still owe the same amount of debt to Clinic as they did on their precocious debut Zeroes QC. The palette of sounds used throughout the record run parallel to the U.K. forebears — sterile guitars, anemic drums, aortic bass. Everything has this antiseptic feel that you can’t shake. They don’t try to recreate the arena heights of their 2010 song “Arena”, save for maybe the wah-wah swell at the end of “Mirror Mirror”, rather the band jams econo, with some of their best moments happening in the spaces of “Edie’s Dream”. This standout track may be Suuns’ best yet, and its simple, arrhythmic two-string bass line is the subtlest and strongest anchor for any of their songs.
When they do get heavy, like on the late-era Manchester redux “Bambi”, the rhythm section does the lifting. Suuns bring back producer Jace Lansek of The Besnard Lakes who makes sure this time that the band never coalesces into a wall of noise. The synthetic, wobbly bass and straight-ahead drums lay track for the bony guitars and vocals of Ben Shemie — the kind Interpol are fond of aping, too.
Shemie has a mouth full of novocaine and kind of lets his words just drip out. Opener “Powers of Ten” shows Shemie at his most visceral, clenched-jaw and everything, intoning how he’s “Got it together / I read in the paper / All of theses strangers / Stranger and stranger” in unison with a speed-picked guitar line. Throughout the rest of the record, his voice moves only a short distance between an antagonizing hiss and whatever fits between puffs of a cigarette, like an especially grumpy Thom Yorke fighting for a cause, or even Brian Molko.
So even when the band is pumping on all cylinders, antagonism is the oil that makes them viscous, sometimes a bit too cagey to for interactions. There’s some open-arms sentiment in the harmonies on “Minor Work”, but when Shemie begins “Holocene City” with “These days are hot and cold / They’re making me believe in ideas,” it’s almost certainly a threat rather than an invitation for a brainstorming session. The shadowy idealism of the mid-tempo song eventually connects to the dramatic epilogue, “Music Won’t Save You”, one last twist of the knife where a phantom bass line and actual laugh track could underscore any number of club-drugs-gone-bad scenes from a movie — or real life.
Suuns work hard on their sophomore album to prove there’s no formula to a Suuns song. They know their way around the canon of post-punk and hybrid-electronic bands so well that every minute reveals another shade of grey you never even knew existed. Each track has enough of a definition to make out in the low light of the album, even if the jazzy ennui of “Sunspot” looks a little too much like a turn-of-the century Radiohead figure. Images de Futur comes up shy of its touchstones in, say, Amnesiac or Drums Not Dead, but the fact that Suuns wants to play in the same league as the art-rock MVPs is what makes these songs such curious spirals that you will want to retrace. It’s not an overtly political statement, but for agnostics not spurred by rally cries and marches, internalizing and analyzing might be the only way to move at all. And as introverted as this album is, it manages to move the band forward a great deal.
Essential Tracks: “Edie’s Dream”, “Music Won’t Save You”, and “Bambi”