Another – The Suntanama
Drag City Records 236
Many of the people who we discuss on this website could be considered "cult
artists," but I recently finished reading a book that prompted some new
thoughts about this term. It concerned a psychological movement which
spawned a community ruled by therapists, whose patients ended up with
horrible lives with punishing schedules and elements of physical and sexual
abuse, but who stayed because of the promise of self-improvement. After
this movement dissolved, an outside therapist surprised some of these
members by telling them that they had been part of a cult.
Anyone who’s listened to much Dead past the early ’80s, or dealt with
getting into one of their shows, knows something about the struggles of
dealing with a "cult band," and that idea comes to mind again when trying to
apprise this new CD from the Suntanama. It’s on a hip label, but the music
is steeped in unhip ’70s-isms without much of the immediacy of the
best-known stuff from that era. The lyrics are hard to read in the dark
booklet, and they tend to be wordy, obtuse warnings to the listener against
some undefined threat or shortcoming (typical couplet: "Don’t be listening
time and time again/To the comatose factions of the mind fear friends").
And none of the songs offer much in the way of hooks, vocally or musically.
And yet, this disc improves with a second or third listen. The music has a
certain subdued power, alternately lyrical and ominous, with a few pleasing
twists here and there. Furthermore, lyrical references such as "John Train"
(the name of Phil Ochs’s alcoholic alter-ego in the year before his suicide)
suggest some above-average intelligence at work. Vocalist/lyricist Darren
Zoltowski, registering somewhere between Ronnie Van Zant and Eddie Vedder,
has enough power to lead the sextet through this 11-cut offering.
The Suntanama’s music is not easy to approach, but also difficult to
dismiss. They may be on the way to heading a cult of their own.