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Sun Parade

Sixty seconds into Shuggy Mtn Breakdown, the debut full-length from Northampton, MA quintet Sun Parade, and you might think that the record is all race fuel, grip tape, lock-step melodic exploration, and brash harmonies. No doubt, the record has all of that – in spades. Yet give yourself over to the Ian Hersey-produced (Rubblebucket) sonic vision quest and you’ll discover a world in which hyper-saturated technicolor sonic washes, churned by guitars fueled with psilocybin and swagger, sublimate into snaky basslines and articulate, tasty drumming serving at the pleasure of the deep groove.

Shuggy Mtn Breakdown is a full-wrought artistic statement, road-tested in basement shows and packed houses along Route 9 in the band’s home territory of Western Massachusetts. Chris Marlon Jennings grew up in Northampton, Massachusetts, busking on the streets. He met Jeff Lewis in 2008 at a tribal gathering of old friends and families in Maine. Lewis, a mandolin player and islander, was due at Berklee on scholarship but after a semester in Boston he moved west to work with Jennings. That collaboration forms the creative core of Sun Parade.

Jennings writes by and large in the language of existential howl, wherein life, love and the pursuit of happiness are a highway pile-up where the rubberneckers get out and dance. Lewis spins ethereal, psychedelic glowing pop benevolence, songs sung into an old Fostex recorder and sent out into the world in strands of metaphysic werewolves and sunshine. The dichotomy between the two writers builds an outliers’ love fest, a condition Oscar Wilde once described as living in the gutter with stardust falling on us.

Over time Jennings and Lewis built the five-piece that is Sun Parade; Karl Helander on drums, percussion, harmonies, and ambient barking, Max Wareham on bass, and Eli Salus-Kleiner on keys (Wareham and Salus-Kleiner joined after the record was complete). Recorded in a one room studio on the 4th floor of an old industrial building somewhere in Brooklyn near lots more buildings and factories just like it, Shuggy Mtn. Breakdown is frenetic and well-cured. Hearthammering, smiley, full of woody tones and iron bones, the record is a freak-out explosion of weirdo power pop and heavy hippy grunge, soul music and rock’n’roll. It’s a band on a precipice, having a laugh and a good cry.

“This album is both a record of microcosms — songs that could stand strong alone — yet as a whole it follows the classic arc of meandering up a strange mountain, falling off, seeing stars, and finding a way to move forward” explains Helander. “It’s not a concept album, but it is probably best understood and enjoyed as one piece. We have so many different influences fit together within this little sonic world we’ve created. This record is an amalgamation of our musical upbringing, and a very distinct slice of time and place for us.”

“Everything gets messed up, everything gets way harder than it should, and you can’t do anything about it” says Jennings, “but you can decide not to care, and not let things you have no control over bring you down.” Overall, says Lewis, “I think that every track sounds like a different style of music for us and therefore it’s pretty hard to figure out exactly what kind of record it is. But I think that’s very sweet.”

Sun Parade has supported Lake Street Dive, Dr. Dog, Born Ruffians, and And The Kids. National Public Radio picked “Heart’s Out” — the title track of the band’s previous EP — for Songs We Love, and wrote that Sun Parade is “crafting the kinds of traditional guitar-pop songs that people might still be singing 50 years down the road.”

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Photo by G. Teensma