Austin-based regret pop band Sun June graduate to a new sound without losing their trademark softness on their new album, Somewhere, out today on Run For Cover Records.
Sun June‘s new album is a project that takes place in transitional spaces – taxi cabs, and parking lots, passing memories and old apartments. It’s apt that the LP’s title, Somewhere, is similarly vague and impermanent. However, while the band seeks to understand shifting situations through the tracks on their sophomore album, Sun June ultimately finds solid footing with their most exciting and dynamic project to date.
For a group that championed soft vocals, quiet piano, and hushed songs about heartbreak, Sun June loudly made their presence known with their debut album, Years, released in 2018 on Keeled Scales. A couple years and a move to Run For Cover Records later, the Austin-based group remains a solid and steadfast unit – even with the five-man band hailing from California and North Carolina, New York and San Antonio, and Chicagoland in-between. Lead vocalist, guitarist, and keyboardist Laura Colwell sits at the center of the close knit group along with songwriter and guitarist Stephen Salisbury. The pair met while working in the editing rooms for director Terrence Malick, where they started jamming and never stopped. With the new album comes a new relationship update: Colwell and Salisbury are officially a couple and have even moved into together. While many bands splinter as romantic relationships flourish or fail, the chemistry between Salisbruy and Colwell fuels Somewhere.
Sun June describe Somewhere as their prom album. “The prom idea started as a mood for us to arrange and shape the music to, which we hadn’t done before,” they explain. This dramatically charged concept may seem like a far cry from their tender and quiet previous releases, but as it begins, it picks up where Years left off. For example, “Karen O,” a simply perfect track that tells the story of seeing the titular artist live in a basement in Brooklyn, has a similar storytelling and sonic rhythm as the anecdotal, previously released tracks “Homes” or “Johnson City.”
The midpoint of the album – where boppy “Everywhere” takes the floor – is where the prom really starts. Thanks to the filled out production by Danny Reish, notably masterful guitar from lead guitarist Michael Bain, and frankly incomparable vocals by Colwell, the second half of Somewhere sounds more present and pronounced than what we’ve seen from Sun June in the past. The result is something between the expansive soundscape of a Slow Pulp album and the hominess of tracks from fellow Texan band The Oh Hellos.
That’s not to say that Sun June have completely done away with the quiet, delicate moments. Instead, their tenderness becomes another weapon in their sonic arsenal rather than a feature to be expected. Track “Finding Out” is low-toned and thrilling, with bright guitar and a buttery bassline. It abruptly comes to a stop long enough for Colwell to deliver a devastating line with full, unbridled emotion, “Do you feel like dancing, baby?” This moment – a true show-stopping section that makes the inevitable wait time to see this track played live even more painful – is a marriage between the old quiet and the new sound. Somewhere is a fresh direction for Sun June, but with familiar features along the journey.
Beyond musicianship, the subject matter of Somewhere has also undergone a maturation. The lyrics are intensely self-aware – sometimes uncomfortably so. In particular, Sun June leans into the idea of self-destruction and shame. With the song “Bad Girl,” Colwell treats the recording booth like a confessional, as she sings, “Driving down to New Orleans / Spending all of my cigarettes / Being the bad girl.” On track “Karen O,” she admits to neglecting her family, “My father called me three times / But my mailbox is full of his messages / Though I doubt he knows it.” Later down the line, on “Once In A While,” she states honestly, “I was drunk / I was a coward / I still am.” As narrators, songwriters Colwell and Salisbury confront their imperfections head on. They don’t explain or apologize, but they don’t take pride in their mistakes, either. The duo act as anthropologists, reporting on behavior without bias. It is a refreshing approach to both songwriting and selfhood.
Somewhere is also an album fixated on failure through stagnation. Sun June have long been lauded for coining the term “regret pop” to describe their music, and Somewhere is teeming with regrets. This feeling of failure is most apparent on track “Everything I Had.” Colwell sings, “Got an apartment / Three doors down from where I used to live / We’re not getting any better / We could move to Los Angeles / Know I hated it when everybody did / I’m not getting any younger / Everything I had, I want it back.” This is a superlatively devastating opening for a song. But who doesn’t know what it’s like to look back on their life and wish for everything they’ve had and lost to return? This nostalgic bitterness is craftily portrayed and regrettably relatable.
And yet, despite these themes of frustration and self-hatred, Somewhere is ultimately an album brimming with love songs. This project has fewer stories than narrative-heavy Years, but more feelings. “Don’t it feel like real love?,” Colwell muses again and again on track “Seasons.” In the next song, “Real Thing,” she continues her train of thought, “Are you the real thing?” She then responds to her own question, “I’m the real thing.” This question of legitimacy – the realness of love, sure, but also the authenticity of your career, and where you live, and what you do there – is at the forefront of this album. Somewhere does not depict the image of a perfect love (or a perfect life, for that matter), but it is instead an honest portrayal of relationships between people who are flawed, unsure, and dissatisfied. Is it the real thing? Probably as real as it can be.
Somewhere ends with a lullaby of a track, “Colors.” The final song is the most lo-fi, featuring basic vocals and a guitar. It’s nice to imagine that Sun June have brought us back to where it all started, and we’re sitting on the cutting room floor with Colwell and Salisbury as they decide to start something together. The last line is ominously bittersweet as Colwell asks, “Is it what you wanted? Is it?.” Whether it’s a question to listeners about the success of Sun June‘s sophomore album or a question about the direction of life generally is to be determined. But then again, what’s a Sun June album without a lingering feeling of not really knowing the answer?