Reading, Writing, & Arithmetic

The Sundays

1989: Rough Trade/Geffen 9 24277-2

  1. Skin & Bones
  2. Here’s Where the Story Ends
  3. Can’t Be Sure
  4. I Won
  5. Hideous Towns
  6. You’re Not the Only One I Know
  7. A Certain Someone
  8. I Kicked a Boy
  9. My Finest Hour
  10. Joy

The Sundays have such a marvelous little quirk to their sound, somehow simultaneously jangly and like glass chimes, always above a steady pulse (sometimes quite a rocking one). This, their debut album, was also appropriately my introduction to them, back around 1990 or 1991. They’re never quite “ethereal,” to me, but they can sure do “airy” nicely here and there. Their sound’s structure is gorgeously melodic—not just in the vocal line, but often in all parts…a good example of that is the closing track, “Joy,” where even the drums are humming along as though in a wispy mantra of their own as the guitars and voice are. The songs don’t always go to a definite conclusion, but none of the songs on this album end with a fade-out—and that’s an aspect of the Sundays oeuvre I personally appreciate; only two tracks on their second album and one on their third employ that undesirable wrap.

My stumbling block with them is their lyrics, which are a mix of goofy and as obscure as those of any other songwriters but confounded further by Harriet Wheeler’s accent and hit-or-miss enunciation. When you catch a line about vomit in an otherwise lovely-sounding song, it can make you pull a slightly torqued face, and that happens a fair amount with me and Sundays tracks.

Faves on this album: “I Won” and “A Certain Someone.” Probably I like them because they are the two tracks that have what I call “doubt notes” as part of their core chord structure—those notes that throw a shade of uncertainty and potential sorrow into the mix. I guess most of their songs are strung as a loose netting of odd note clusters across frames of fifths, come to think of it, and those two tracks are just the two here that draw me in by having some shadowy interiors.