Review Summary: Prove yourself if you want to.
Some time ago I came to the realization that there are probably a good deal of kids these days who have no clue what that blue square icon next to the “Save As” button means. It’s an unknown fragment of history whose relevance has been lost to time; an artefact from a civilization which they did not take any part in. It is a placeless concept, an archaic design that one can barely imagine being made, and therefore as solid an example as you can find of a business model that has simply become obsolete. I would hazard a guess that Eternal Summers felt much the same way about the current state of the recording industry when they elected to fund the mixing and mastering stages of their latest album, The Drop Beneath
, via none other than a pre-order project on PledgeMusic. As the program began gathering steam, the band’s fans quickly found themselves able to pledge on items that ranged from the simple (a digital download of the album upon its completion, for instance) to the more outrageous (my favourite being the opportunity to personally shave off drummer Daniel Cundiff’s hair).
Vocalist Nicole Yun spoke candidly about the band’s intentions in a 2013 interview with Speak Into My Good Eye: “I think nowadays many labels want bands to already have their album done before working with them – definitely the opposite of those classic days of record deals and advances,” she explained. “We thought having the album be fan-funded would make the most sense since this band was never meant to be more than a one-time recording project – it was fans who helped propel us into existence!” she adds. A little history lesson may be in order at this juncture: Eternal Summers began as a random musical experiment by fellow Virginians Nicole Yun and Daniel Cundiff, and their collaboration was never intended to be more than a one-off. But life has a well-documented way of turning the formbook upside down, and two full-length studio albums soon followed, along with the recruitment of bassist Jonathan Woods as a permanent member of the band. The way things are looking, it would take an extremely brave person to bet against Eternal Summers’ continued existence.
For their third studio release, the rock-n-roll trio left the familiarity of Roanoke, Virginia and headed to Austin to record with Doug Gillard (of Guided by Voices and Nada Surf fame). As one might expect, Gillard’s fingerprints are all over The Drop Beneath
. While Eternal Summers may have first earned their chops by birthing languid, dream-pop ballads like “Safe at Home” or “Lightswitch”, under Gillard’s guidance they are quick to settle into a much more nascent groove, the zeitgeist of which is best outlined by the one-two punch of the album’s first two tracks, “100” and “A Burial”. The former opens with a sequence of aqueous guitar noodling, which gradually gives way to a pulsing rhythm section and a stratospheric chorus. Yun puts in a particularly compelling shift here, sounding like a delightful cross between the anguished beauty of Dum Dum Girls’ Dee Dee and the harsher, serrated edges of Warpaint’s Emily Kokal, which should only be seen as a compliment of the highest order. “A Burial” in turn dispenses entirely with the sephia filter that colours its predecessor’s peripherals, opting instead to pursue a harder and brighter sound that is buttressed by a mix of noisy, shoegaze-influenced guitars and a gritty bassline.
Thankfully, all this reinvention does not come at the expense of the band’s more traditional qualities, as glimpses of the Eternal Summers of old can still be found scattered all over on the record. Lead single “Gouge”, for instance, retains some of the twee-like jangle of the band’s earlier records even as it builds on the noise template outlined by the two preceding tracks. Elsewhere, “Until the Day I Have Won” features Yun dutifully riding the song’s lonely swirling guitar motif until it dissolves in a haze of washed-out grey. “In your heart, in your heart/I think you know/This is not how it’s supposed to go,” calls out the singer into the abyss, marking one of the record’s more ethereal moments. Then there’s the resplendent seven-minute long title track, a lengthy dream-pop jam which overcomes its slightly awkward positioning at the tail end of affairs to function as a summation of what Eternal Summers have come to represent at this point in their careers. It is vibrant, filled with purpose, and seals off any gaps that might arise as a result of their slight departure from Correct Behaviour
's dream-punk oeuvre.
But while the band have taken to calling The Drop Beneath
their “most righteous record yet” (whatever that means), there is undoubtedly still a lot of room for them to grow into, as the album spends the bulk of its 46-minute runtime in solid-to-good territory without ever truly hitting it out of the park. That being said, it is clear that Eternal Summers have made more than just a third album; The Drop Beneath
is the first record of their career that truly feels like the start of something special. A great many bands do not even make it to this stage, and it will be extremely interesting to see what this three-piece might produce a few more years down the line. As things stand though, it would appear that Mr Cundiff has not sacrificed his heroic black metal tresses in vain.