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Kay (pronounced kai, like sky) -- who, like the other members of mostly punk outfit Sunshine, prefers to go by his first name -- keeps apologizing for his English.
"I'm sorry, it's very difficult to speak on the phone with me," he says for the third time. "Many people tell me this. It's easier, you know, face to face."
In truth, Kay's English is as generally competent as a native speaker's (the only significant communication problem is the occasional dropout on the cell phone connection), but even when he audibly struggles to find the precise wording to represent his thoughts, he often hits upon a unique, nearly poetic phraseology that says volumes more than the King's English would have allowed him to.
Of Sunshine's musical influences: "Previously, we were almost strictly hard-core. On the San Diego model. Screaming."
Of Sunshine's touring opportunities and the attendant complexities: "It's difficult economically. Everything is about the fucking dollar."
Of Sunshine's lyrics: "On that album [Velvet Suicide, Sunshine's latest] we use English. Probably not very good English. We try to use a mixture of language. Some of it means nothing."
Of Sunshine's tendency to experiment with several musical styles: "It's definitely possible to find all these things on the album."
Of the consistency of Sunshine's overall idiom: "We try to make [the new] album so that, if someone were to listen or to buy, they would know it was the same band. They would, you know, intuit the hard-core."
Sunshine is an almost strictly hard-core band from the Czech Republic, three guys -- vocalist/guitarist Kay, drummer Dan and keyboardist/bassist Martin -- who've been together, in just that lineup, for six years. Velvet Suicide, the band's new album on Big Wheel Recreation and its third full-length release, is a sheer wonder and a delight for those who've been craving a good old guitar-heavy postpunk raveup.
To listen to Velvet Suicide -- the first several songs, anyway -- you'd think this band had been locked away in 1977 and force-fed a steady diet of Ramones, Circle Jerks and Descendents sides. The kickoff number, "Hero 78," begins like an outtake from The Ramones Leave Home, but soon distinguishes itself by slithering through a couple of slow, sensible time changes that prevent it from sounding like mere aping. The further you get through the album -- certainly by its midpoint -- it becomes clear that hard-core punk is only one of the colors on Sunshine's palette; and further, it's not the only color the group can use expressively.
Most of Velvet Suicide's songs go through a carefully crafted series of tempo and mode shifts, in fact. It's part of the style the band has tried consciously to develop: "The songs sound similar, even the ones we're playing now on the tour, for the next album we want to record. We are definitely open to anything, but the most important is the final version."
Talking to Kay about the "final version" of the songs on Velvet Suicide soon brings the discussion around to the many musical styles represented on it, the eclectic assemblage being what most impresses the first-time listener. That is, intuiting the hard-core elements in Sunshine's repertoire isn't terribly tricky, but what's really striking about Velvet Suicide is the band's refusal to lock itself into that mode; we are emphatically not talking about a revivalist punk group, but a band aggressively honing its chops in a number of dialects: "Basically our [three members'] influences are similar, late-1970s, early-1980s punk and New Wave, but we also bring in dance music. We have a different flavor in some songs."
Furthermore, the influences are much broader than simply "dance." Sometimes that flavor manifests itself in analog looping and raps (assembled by Kay) in a song like "Adventures With Her Stereo," a funky track equally heavy on break beats and nervous guitar scratchings. Sometimes it arises in the light, airy folk melody of the otherwise frenzied "Porn Orchid." Sometimes it appears in the early Cure lush echo and sparse instrumentation of "The Stardust Angel" (Kay's voice actually bears many similarities to Robert Smith's, cranked about a third higher), or the Fugazi-style open harmonics and heavy drum rolls on "Dope Driver Called 'Virgin Boom.'" But taken as a whole, the album coheres in large part because Sunshine wears all these influences on its sleeve, yet doesn't segregate each from the other.
And if you're wondering how the language factor impacts the album, be assured that even the most broken English seems to work when put to Sunshine's various uses. Lyrics in hard-core punk are a mug's game in any case, and even native-born, ostensibly literate wordsmiths tend to mangle their verbiage when the volume gets cranked up. But Kay's lyrics are crisply sung and cleanly recorded, so that when we hear him sing "welwet suicide" on the title track, or we get to a passage like "I don't need know who I am/Somebody else/I don't need know where I go/Somebody know," he sounds supremely confident. Hell, for all we know, he wrote the lyrics that way in the first place, and who are we to criticize Sunshine's twiddled English when it might be an artistic decision? Better to bypass this point gracefully.