Review Summary: A timeless classic of jangly indie rock.
I fell in love with music when I was sixteen years old, and my interest was born out of the electric guitar and all of its shimmering, crunchy possibilities. The style of playing found in obscure alternative rock bands immediately drew me toward the instrument, and not surprisingly my tastes have inclined toward bands where the primary focus is on the instrumentation, rather than the singing.
Most of my beloved bands are fronted by singers whose voice is another melody mixed in with the guitars. The Sundays are a conspicuous exception to that rule. The lovely Harriet Wheeler is unmistakably the center of the band, but she's more than a pretty face; almost twenty-five years after the release of Reading, Writing, And Arithmetic, her singing remains nearly unrivaled amongst indie rock bands.
It's not just her ability as a singer, or even her voice, itself. Her lyrics carefully-composed and often clever, taking unexpected turns, and these elements all converge to achieve a wistful, romantic quality rarely found in indie rock, where ironic detachment and sourness are more common. Though The Sundays were sometimes dismissed for being derivative of artists like The Smiths or The Cocteau Twins, the aspiring indie band girl vocalist would end up sounding much fresher by taking some influence from Wheeler's style rather than the likes of Kim Deal or Kim Gordon.
But what ultimately makes The Sundays are successful band, rather than just Harriet Wheeler And Her Backing Group, is what the rest of the band contributes. David Gavarin's guitar playing is the other highlight of the album. Gavarin is an underrated guitarist who crafted nearly as many memorable hooks as frequent subject of comparison Johnny Marr, and beyond his keen ear for composition, his guitar playing perfectly balances with Harriet's singing. The Sundays display a finely-tuned sense for melodies and countermelodies, never tipping the balance too far in one direction or the other. And Gavarin's taste for suspended chords and ethereal melodies on songs like "Joy" set The Sundays apart from groups like the derivative Cranberries.
“Here's Where The Story Ends” is a fine song, to be certain, but the album is filled with tracks that match or exceed its quality. “Hideous Towns” and “You're Not The Only One I Know” are particular standouts, and “Can't Be Sure” builds up in a satisfying way. Though Wheeler and Gavarin tended to get most of the attention, the rhythm section deserves compliments as well. Paul Brindley's bass playing, in particular, makes a subtle but enjoyable contribution to each of the tracks. Although it's tempting to remember The Sundays just for Harriet's vocals, the satisfying manner in which all the pieces come together give the record an enduring charm that sounds as fresh today as it did twenty-five years ago.
The Sundays' influence is found in, of all places, Japanese indie rock, where groups like The Pillows, Advantage Lucy, and Soutaisei Riron owe a lot of their guitar stylings and melodic sensibility to the band. Curiously, Mike Kinsella, in speaking about American Football, cited the band as an influence, in spirit if not exactly in style. In the same way Kinsella's album conjures impressions of the autumnal, suburban American midwest, The Sundays channel the English countryside with its stony, bucolic cottages and anxiously uncertain college days in equal measure. Its distance from the cynicism and detachment of modern independent music make Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic an album that's immediately charming in its honesty and appreciation of simple beauty.