Review Summary: Well crafted acoustic punk that has some surprising hidden depths.
Chris McCaughan is best known for his frontline role in the widely respected, brilliantly anthemic punk band, The Lawrence Arms. Throughout their career – one that has spanned more than ten years and is still thriving - McCaughan has played an integral role in the song writing process of the band, gradually honing his craft along the way. Perhaps inevitably he began, over the years, to amass a group of songs which wouldn’t fit easily into The Lawrence Arms repertoire and, in-between touring and recording duties, he quietly unleashed these upon the public in a series of one off coffee shop/bar shows. Positive responses to these solo acoustic performances, along with a confidence in the cohesiveness of his own work, drove McCaughan to the logical conclusion of a solo record, and so Sundowner was born.
On first listen Four One Five Two
contains few surprises. Most songs are based around briskly strummed open or barre chords and a solid, if slightly vague and unadventurous lyrical content delivered in McCaughan’s pleasantly earthy voice. So far, so acoustic punk. On closer inspection, though, it becomes clear that the record is laced with remarkably subtle details which add a breadth
to the music; an added texture not all that common within the genre. At regular points throughout the album there are warm, almost inaudible undercurrents hovering below the sound of the guitar and voice, and it’s only when they spread a little and rise to the surface that it becomes clearly recognisable as a cello. And occasionally, delicate piano melodies bloom and fade, like the quiet tinkling which keeps up with the chorus in ‘Steal Your Words’ – an ephemeral and brilliantly effective detail that remains low in the mix, showing a restraint that would be noteworthy in any genre, let alone one based around a notorious tendency for simplicity.
Lyrically, Four One Five Two
breaks no new boundaries, but it's fit to burst with simple yet evocative imagery and metaphor; an aspect that oddly becomes one of the record’s greatest attractions, while also being its foremost drawback. The lyrics have a down-to-earth poeticism, but their consistent abstractness gives the impression that something is being held back, as if McCaughan is uncomfortable sharing the real grit
of his life in the way that, say, Frank Turner seems to revel in. What this more generalised style of writing does benefit from, though, is a universality which makes it easy for the listener to identify with the themes of the songs, even if the character of the singer remains a little blurry. Four One Five Two
might not be a perfect record, then, but compared to many of its kind it displays a remarkable finesse that is as endearing as it is surprising. So, if you’re a fan of melodic punk, and you’ve got the time to listen, you’ll probably find that Sundowner have got something worthwhile to say. And it’s something they say very well.