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"Armed for Peace," the opener of Suuns' (pronounced "soons") first album released in 2010, Zeroes QC, spends its introductory minute-and-a-half developing an industrial-indebted tension, slowly accreting nervous, unreliable sonic artifacts over a dead-simple drum pad beat and a guitar melody that sounds like a belly-cut electrical wire left to wriggle in the street. Before returning to that scene in its last half-minute, its middle is spent on a depressively riffed, mathematic get-down.
After each successive album — and within that first one, too — this Montreal four-piece (singer/guitarist Ben Shamie, drummer Liam O'Neill, electronics maestro Max Henry and guitarist Joseph Yarmush) has zeroed in on that initial experiment, of guitar-driven but electronics-dependent compositions that play like paranoiac tug-of-war, encouraged by the semi-whispered coo of Shamie, whose lyrics read like mantras.
The result has been a band that sounds like the poster art of the Bauhaus; precise and playfully totalitarian, colorful and frustrated. With their new album, Felt, they've taken fingerpaints to the formula, muddying it and rolling up the cuffs.
The new contour is evident — down to the fingerpaint — in Suuns' new song and video for "Watch You, Watch Me," an atypically joyous, if typically skittish, build of brutalism and emotion. The new direction, to those looking for the restrained stomp of songs like "Instrument" and "2020," may arrive as somewhat frustrating initially, but its capture of this strange moment in history is too compelling to allow pining for the past.
The video for "Watch You, Watch Me," a collage directed by Russ Murphy, is a pastiche of organic and mechanical; Photoshop selections and cut-outs blink and delete as intestinal pink, stone grey and gold paint swirl around a never-settled series of portraits of Suuns and friends. A pause on any frame could be its central conceit, a comfort in and rejection of an insane time, where we monitor everyone else in the hopes of being monitored ourselves. "Where are you man, what are you thinking about," Shamie wonders, "time and after time."
Like These New Puritans — where'd they go, anyways? — Suuns requires a certain patience and a tolerance for discomfort. Like sculpture in reverse, the beauty here is piled on top of a stout cube — but just look at the lovely striations in that marble.
Suuns' Felt is out March 2 on Secretly Canadian.