Review Summary: Post-hardcore's Pinkerton
Ten years since its release, Say Hello to Sunshine
needs-- nay, demands
-- to be revisited. The record was unfortunately, and unfairly, shunned upon its release, mainly because of its following the poppier, simpler, and less challenging What It Is to Burn
. The majority of Finch's young fanbase was unwilling to invest time in actually listening
: they simply realized it was not a part two of the debut, and derided the album accordingly. However, a decade has now passed since that controversy, and listeners can thus-- hopefully-- hear Sunshine
as its own entity, without taking into account personal feelings of irritation or surprise, and without opposing it against its predecessor.
The lyrics on Sunshine
cover a wide range of topical ground, however the topics are all expressed through dark, abstract imagery. For example, opener "Insomniatic Meat" is about lead singer Nate Barcalow's inability to fall asleep due to haunting thoughts monopolizing his mind, and the way the subject is tackled is decidedly abstract. The opening stanza reads:
"Oh my god.
I think I'm blind
I've found one color won't suffice
'One colour' refers to the black that consumes the would-be-sleeper upon turning off the lights-- it 'won't suffice' for its intended purpose due to his feeling 'blind' in the darkness. The darkness 'promised sleep tonight,' but it lied: he is suffering from insomnia.
The song continues in similar lyrical fashion, with the discordant instrumental backing mirroring the paranoid, frightened words admirably, until around halfway through, when Barcalow sings:
"It's painless to float above the earth
Tie me to a chair, subconsciously
Sleep renders one powerless; it 'ties them to a chair' and forces them to 'subconsciously surrender' to their dreams. And, while it is 'painless to float above the earth' like that, it removes one from reality. Thus, once again, the darkness, supposedly useful for ushering in sleep, results in blindness for the host, and thereby the ultimate theme of the track is revealed: sleep as removing agency from the sleeper. Isn't it frightening that something necessary for human survival leaves them so vulnerable? What does this say about our species?
"Revelation Song" follows, and is the only track on the album where the band directly addresses the resentment they felt following What It Is to Burn
's success-- a record which was an enormous hit despite not representing where the band wanted to be musically. The chorus most clearly elucidates this:
"Take a look around
Everything - in turn - will come down
Don't depend on this - broken promises
They won't hear a sound
These lines are addressed directly to fans of the previous effort. Essentially, Barcalow is instructing those people to 'take a look around' and see how 'everything in turn is coming down.' Notice the use of 'in turn' here, implying that just as Sunshine
took down What It Is
in turn, so will the next record take down Sunshine
He then says not to 'depend on this'-- literally, this song/album-- because, as aforementioned, the band is liable to change drastically, just as they did on this turn. And then, he predicts the backlash against the record, and says that those who do
depend on 'this' will 'not hear a sound;' as in, the record will go over the heads of those people. Thus, the song itself is a 'revelation' for listeners: you cannot depend on this band for similarity, but you can depend on them to:
"Defend this: my only body stands
Three more lines, during the bridge, solidify this theme, and are straightforward enough that they do not require analysis:
"You plant the seed, to grow the tree
But save room for the family
Evolution turns another ugly hand
The music in the song matches the lyrics admirably, once again. The odd time signatured verses signify the new sound of Finch, and the lyrics are accordingly aggressive, speaking of re-arranging the band's sound; of not becoming stuck in one place, and fearing being perceived as intentionally spoiling old fans' fun in the process:
"Last chance to find the way out
Rearrange life 'till sundown
A stick in the mud
The choruses are more straightforward, expressed in a digestible format for fans of the 'old sound' -- the aforementioned lyrics then, which are addressed to them, are digestible to them as well. The music also provides juxtaposition: the simple chorus, harkening back to their old sound; the complex verses, signifying the new. It really is excellent musical personification.
"Brother Bleed Brother" was the first song released from the album (as promotion for it). It is also, on a record full of great tracks, one of the best. While Barcalow's voice and lyrics are once again dark and sinister-- and they will be covered in more detail later-- it is the instrumental section of the band which is given a real workout here. The breakdown section of the track-- featuring snares on the downbeats of a juttery stop-start riff-- is a technical masterpiece: one of my favourite sections in rock music in the last decade.
Also note the drumming at the minute-and-a-half mark, where Marc Allen breaks into a floor tom roll, and how the band manages to insert a few notes of track five "Ink"'s main riff into the aforementioned breakdown around a minute later. Details like these are interspersed throughout not only this track, but the entire record, and they propel it to another level.
Now, the lyrics: Barcalow stated in an interview that "a lot of the songs on [Say Hello to Sunshine
] [were] more personal to me than the last record was - I wrote things that no one else but me could even tell [were] personal. I touched on things I never explored before." I believe "Brother Bleed Brother" to be one of these songs. However, even if Barcalow's meaning is one so wholly personal it cannot be deciphered by the outside audience, the lyrics have enough wiggle room as to allow outside interpretation; and, furthermore, their sound works within the context of the music, and with lyrics sound is an integral component, often brushed aside for meanings' sake. Mike Patton
-- who was an obvious influence on Barcalow on this record-- once stated, with regards to his
lyrics, that people often looked too deeply into them: that he cared more about the sound than the meaning. This is not to imply that there is no
meaning to either his or Barcalow's lyrics, but rather that sound can take precedence over
meaning, and that such an outlook carries an oft under-appreciated validity.
At any rate, as previously stated, the lyrics for this track are likely too personal to Barcalow to be analyzed like the two previous-- however, listeners can imbue their own meaning into it. And, as a piece of music, "Brother Bleed Brother" is fantastic.
In the same interview referenced above, Barcalow revealed that "A Piece of Mind" is about a man getting a lobotomy because "society is going downhill and he can't take anymore." The chorus is the most obvious representation of this:
"I hate that it tastes this way
Medicine gets so stale
A cut from a piece of mind
Then will you listen
I'm only me
Thus, the play on words of the title is illuminated: the character in this song removes a piece of his mind to achieve peace of mind. It also exposes the meaning behind the surgical sounds and talking during the breakdown: it is the man receiving his lobotomy. Once more, "A Piece of Mind"'s lyrics cover a topic different from the three previous, but one expressed through dark and abstract imagery.
Instrumentally, this song is more straightforward than the previous three, however it is not lazy or vapid in any way, and Barcalow's vocal delivery is impressively diverse, ranging from grim and unstable, to soft and melodic, to whispered, to Patton-esque yelling. The wonderful guitar passage underneath Barcalow's deceivingly difficult vocal line in the chorus is also noteworthy, and another example of that aforementioned detail prevalent throughout the record: the band could have stuck to straight chords here, but instead they mix it up with a counteracting rhythm, and bends to end it.
"Ink" is another highly personal song for Barcalow, like "Brother Bleed Brother," I believe. I also believe the two songs are connected in some way for him, which is why the band would, as aforementioned, insert part of the main riff from this song into the breakdown of that one. What this connection is, I do not know; but again, the listener can imbue meaning into the track.
Structurally, "Ink" is actually a very simple song-- simpler than any of the four before it. It is within the framework of that structure where Finch experiments, playing with time signatures and dynamics. The former is most notable in the main riff and verses, and the latter in the sudden drop to a lone, clean guitar for the bridge. Once more, Barcalow's vocals during the chorus are deceptively difficult: the delivery is perfectly aggressive for the part, and contrasts wonderfully with the low, growling speaking of the verses. Also, note the tapped snare in the intro; the galloping bass in the verses; the perfect guitar tones in the explosion of a chorus, and the restrained guitar solo during the final one. More examples of Finch experimenting-- and succeeding at it-- within the confines of a traditional song structure.
Like "Ink," "Fireflies" sees Finch taking a traditional song structure and experimenting within it via time signatures and dynamics. The lyrics of the song cover a topic equally traditional to the song structure: a relationship and subsequent break-up. However, the topic is expressed-- as per the rest of the record-- in a uniquely dark manner.
I float without
A light to lead me back
I'm lost again
Here, the speaker has just separated from his significant other-- the 'communications are down'-- and he's floating in the sea (playing on the 'many fish in the sea' idiom so often expressed upon a break-up) aimlessly; hence he's 'lost again.'
"They say silence is golden
Loneliness never shined like this
Diseased the leper sits
The leper is me
He derides here those who refer to silence as golden; he is experiencing silence now, and cannot see anything. Thus, the silence is exactly the opposite of golden, because with silence comes loneliness, and 'loneliness never shined like this'-- it never shined at all. He then imagines himself as a leper, unwanted.
"Fireflies illuminate your eyes
The moon will lead me back to earth again
A two-line chorus. Fireflies metaphorically illuminate the speaker's love's eyes, however fireflies, like all life, die; and, in this case, they have-- hence the darkness now plaguing him. Thus, the speaker must look up (at 'the moon') from the person he's been looking down at for so long, in order to rejoin reality (come 'back to earth again'). The words thusfar in the song possess a lot of haunting atmospherics, and this wonderfully vivid imagery is present during the second verse as well:
"Caught between the stars
A well lit drowning
Darkness mocks me with
A broken compass
So I swim in a sea
Broken down, and helpless
No longer floating, he is now swimming; but it is still dark, and the darkness is now playing an active role, mocking him with 'a broken compass'-- sending him signals that amount to nothing, perhaps much like the singal that led him to his most recent relationship: the subject of the song.
Instrumentally, the song takes a typical break-up formula and twists it around, via the aforementioned time signature experimentation, as well the bridge. Indeed, the bridge is very interesting: a jazzy 6/8 section kicks it off, before a distorted guitar and some equally distorted vocal harmonies from Barcalow enter the foray. Before heading back into a final repetition of the chorus (note the ingenious guitar harmonics in the background for the second and third choruses) a bar of 7/8 plays, occupied mostly by a drum fill. A great way to bend the song around in one last rotation before letting it go, back into the familiar chorus-- like tightening a coil to breaking point, and releasing it just before it is destroyed.
Barcalow has stated that "Hopeless Host" is about his "body not being a very good host for health." With that explanation, the lyrics are relatively straightforward:
Is crumbling me, born into
Won't digest demons mother please
I beg. Just finish the stitch
Sew me up to live
This song is often derided by listeners as 'filler,' something I have never understood. I can only chalk such an attitude up to its position in the middle of the record. The track is a drumming showcase. Allen is on full display here, particularly in the first half: placing snares on off-beats, intricately inserting fills, and creating a chaotic whirlwind vibe that is supported by the guitars, and not the other way around (as per usual in the genre).
The quiet bridge too, with its perfectly measured build-up that sees Barcalow once more utilizing whispered vocals, is astounding. And the ending: one of the heaviest sections on the record. Devastating screams from Barcalow lead into a sudden closure, and final inhale.
"Reduced to Teeth" is one of the most well-written rock songs of the last decade. The track perfectly balances heavy and soft, shifting between the two effortlessly. It is written smartly, with no excess and no want of anything. It also sees the introduction of a Burtonesque atmosphere-- namely in its verses and bridge-- which permeates much of the second half of the record.
The reversed guitar and background sound effects in the bridge are utterly fantastic: more small details that propel Sunshine
to another level. Also, notice Barcalow's more restrained delivery of the first chorus versus the second, paralleling the increasing desperation of the character he is singing about.
Yes, Barcalow is singing either as or about a character here. The lyrics are based around Edgar Allan Poe's short story "Berenice," which tells of a woman whose health deteriorates until the only healthy part of her remaining is her teeth. Poe's influence appears again later in the record, with "The Casket of Roderick Usher;" Barcalow was clearly inspired by the man's writings.
"A Man Alone" is the perfect title for this song, which comes seemingly out of nowhere with its happy-go-lucky opening riff-- especially following the dark 1-2 punch of "Hopeless Host" and "Reduced to Teeth." However, such track placement makes perfect sense when its theme is revealed: unsurprisingly, it is the theme of loneliness; of being isolated amongst society. Thus, its jarring nature-- its apparent not fitting in-- is indicative of the theme itself.
"Woke up this morning without a face
I've fooled myself again
I've sold myself again
Another wasted day counting shades
Of gray, another fool's attempt to fall from grace
Beyond the obvious implications of that opening stanza, the song goes so far as to discuss attempted suicide on the part of the speaker:
"Who could stand veins with friends like these?
"No sympathy for the devil
God gave him wings, God gave him wings
However, the chorus reveals that he cannot commit the action:
"Old man loneliness is a son of a bitch
Both hands bound, can't scratch the itch
Loneliness-- 'old man loneliness'-- makes the speaker depressed, but does not give him sufficient will to free himself from the feeling-- it metaphorically 'binds his hands.'
This is a relatively simple song structurally, and apart from Barcalow's impressively diverse vocal delivery and the well-handled shifts in dynamics, is relatively simple instrumentally, too. This simplicity works, however, at allowing the juxtaposition between vocal and instrumental tones to shine through: the intro guitar riff, which doubles as the chorus riff, is, as aforementioned, very happy-go-lucky, and when overlain with Barcalow's intense, loud, screamed vocal delivery, it isolates Barcalow and emphasizes him as the speaker who is alone, and angry at the otherwise happy world around him.
Comparisons are often made between this track and Faith No More
, and while the inspiration is certainly there, to imply the similarity as any sort of plagiarism on Finch's part is going way too far.
Finch flexes their prog muscles most noticeably on "Miro." Despite being one of the shortest songs on Sunshine
, it takes more unexpected twists and turns than any other track on the record, even implementing a full out clean jazz riff before its outro. Barcalow's vocal lines are once again deceptively difficult; his dynamic range is exhibited upon his singing quietly in the first verse, more loudly in pre-chorus, and loudest in the chorus itself.
The lyrics may refer to one Miro Ribeira, a character in Ender's Game who returns to the Outside and is thereby granted his former, pre-crippled body; his old body crumbles into dust. Though admittedly this theory did not originate with me, it is an interesting take, and it would explain the otherwise seemingly random title:
"I burned up, I burned up
Ablaze upon re-entry
I woke up, I woke up
Face down along the shoreline
Paradise is mine
This may simply be another case of the lyrics being very personal to Barcalow, though. At any rate, the track is a display of Finch's versatility and musicianship-- the odd time-signatured verses and intro are particularly impressive, as is the aforementioned jazzy guitar playing in the bridge-- and it serves to further diversify an already impressively eclectic record.
"Ravenous" is two minutes and forty seconds of non-stop energy. Barcalow's vocal delivery is distinctly Patton-flavoured, namely in his building from speaking to screaming during the pre-choruses, and his demented screaming at the end. Lyrically, there is a distinct religious theme to the track:
"The temple is me
Something to believe in
Is something to be
Really, the song appears to be anti-religious, with lines like:
"Focus on the fiction
Lose sight of the vision
While such a topic may appear juvenile upon first glance, really, the theme is expressed with eloquence, and such a vision perfectly aligns with the similarly aggressive instrumentation. "Ravenous"-- the title likely refers to Man's creating religion out of desperation to know everything. The ending lines further imply this:
"Man makes changes
Man wants everything!
"Bitemarks and Bloodstains" was the single released from the record. Its music video depicts some sort of outer space disaster destroying all life in a small town. While a very effective video in its own right, I don't think it really aligns with what the song's lyrics speak of. I believe this to be another song about a relationship gone downhill, a la "Fireflies," expressed through dark imagery-- however, this one takes a much more sinister turn. The opening lines read:
"My or may we be this way forever?
Tell me lover what will become of the other
Bones, skin, nails and flesh
On a bed of lack of passion, a medieval consequence
The two lovers-- or rather, former lovers-- see each other as merely 'bones, skin, nails, and flesh' due to lack of passion they now have for each other. The speaker questions whether this outlook is a healthy one, and whether the pair will 'be this way forever.' The 'medieval consequence' is the killing of the lover, which is detailed in the following chorus:
"Now I'm stealing her body and taking it home
There is always one more fault
To put it simply, he has killed her, and is now taking her body with him somewhere. The next verse furthers the story, speaking of the woman's maladjustment to her relationship and how, now that she is dead, it appears she 'deserved more than him:'
"Maladjusted, you must trust me darling
Subsequentially it seems you deserve more than me
Consider also the threateningly delivered lyrics during the build-up into the bridge:
"This will hurt you, it's killing me
This will hurt you, and I will to, and I will
Dark material for a single, and that is perhaps partly why it failed to capture much attention. Even listeners who are otherwise fond of the record appear to often deride "Bitemarks," finding it ineffective or regarding it as filler material. I believe it is one of the strongest tracks on the record. The instrumentation is extremely impressive-- the drumming in the verses is especially difficult, with the unusually timed bass drum hits combined with the steady open hi-hat pulse-- and the track's vibe is one distinctly Burtonesque, reviving the atmosphere from "Reduced to Teeth." Also, the production is fantastic: the light flanger on the guitars during the verses is a great touch, and the background squealing during the bridge build-up is similarly excellent. Not to mention, Barcalow's vocal melodies on this song are some of the most difficult, and effective, on the record.
Fans of The Dillinger Escape Plan
will immediately make a connection between that band and this song. Finch channels them with great success on "The Casket of Roderick Usher," a track often thought of as out of place on the record. I disagree with that sentiment: the album has already cycled through a diverse set of genres-- what's wrong with a little mathcore? The lyrics refer to an Edgar Allan Poe short story-- "The Fall of the House of Usher"-- so, much like 'Reduced to Teeth," we see Barcalow deriving inspiration from that enigmatic man.
This track seems like a fun one for the band-- essentially a no holds barred tribute to one of their favourite groups. It is a great track in its own right, though; the heaviest song on the record, to be sure.
How about Mr. Bungle
? While "Dreams of Psilocybin" does not wear its influence quite so obviously as its predecessor, the influence is certainly there. It even begins with a voice sample (of someone doing karate). This is one of my favourite songs on the record.
More Burtonesque flavour comes in the verses, with triple-layered vocals, sweetly sinister guitar play, and frantic drumming. The five-count on the snare into the first chorus is brilliant, and the chorus itself is catchy and powerful. The bridge maintains tension, before entering a beautiful clean section where Barcalow sings:
"It's criminal, more than you know
The loss in your eyes
It's critical now
The look in my eye
Then comes one of the record's best moments: an explosion into distorted guitars, background 'ooh' vocals, and great vocal delivery from Barcalow. Then one final repetition of the chorus, and a screamed section that suddenly stops, and it's the end of the record. An abrupt, and appropriate, way to close the album.
Psilocybin is the compound in shrooms that makes them hallucinogenic, so the song's lyrics could be interpreted as what goes through the mind of someone during a shrooms trip (I suppose that would explain the otherwise seemingly random aforementioned beginning sample). They could also be of a personal nature to Barcalow, like some of the other selections on the record. At any rate, "Dreams of Psilocybin" is a fantastic song, and a whole record of this type of material would be extremely interesting (as unlikely as that is to ever happen).
Say Hello to Sunshine
is a deep, challenging, and varietous listen that deserves to be re-evaluated now, a decade since its coming out. Its rejection upon release was unwarranted. It contains some of the best rock songs of the last decade; maintains a uniquely dark atmosphere for its duration; and features some wonderful production. It is an adventurous and brave record that not only demands a re-evaluation, but requires one.