A lot of interesting concept works have been finding a home with audiences in the past year given the abnormal circumstances songwriters have been experiencing compared to the norm, but among those to have landed on my desk recently, few can hold a candle to Signs & Wonders. In this latest album from the one and only Sun King Rising, the framework of the conventional concept rock album is skewed with chamber pop and psychedelic themes typically left to the lo-fi/ambient crowd exclusively. The melodies are sterling while the verses are sharper than a farmhand’s machete, and to those with an appetite for compelling alternative songcraft, this is a tough listen to beat.
It’s indisputable that notes of Meat Loaf can be found in tracks like “Alabama Nocturne,” “No. 6 Magnolia Avenue” and “No. 6 Magnolia Avenue,” but I wouldn’t say any of the material on this disc sounds unoriginal. To be perfectly frank, I don’t know that SKR has it in him to wear someone else’s identity amidst the lyrics he’s putting down in “No. 6 Magnolia Avenue,” and in the accompanying video for the song, it becomes rather impossible to accuse him of modeling the narrative after anyone’s emotion other than his own.
There’s a ton of oomph plowing out of the speakers in the disheveled “Anchorless” and rather poppy “Lanterns on the Levee,” but it’s the sort of sonic force that is satisfying even for the volume-light listeners in the audience. Artistic definition is an important feature in Sun King Rising’s music, whether it be his visual work or the audio content he makes, and even though it’s not achieved specifically through the intensity of the instrumental vibrations in Signs & Wonders, it wouldn’t be at all possible without the inclusion of this necessarily abrasive feature.
Not everything here has the gloss “Buried in the Blues,” “No. 6 Magnolia Avenue” and “One More Story to Tell” sport; contrarily, SKR makes a point of letting certain components of the music in “Jubal Takes a Wife,” the intro track “Bitter Waters Sweetened” and “Low Wine and Cruel Ruin” remain untouched by the steady hand of producers, likely to allow for raw textures to stay intact. There isn’t one detail that doesn’t contribute something to the grander scheme of things in this record, and if this were the case with even a handful of the albums that I review in any given year, the western world would be experiencing a musical renaissance unlike any other in recent history.
Signs & Wonders is a hard LP to put down once you get into its tracklist regardless of how big a fan of progressive music you are (or, in my case, flat-out aren’t), and while Sun King Rising has never demonstrated a need to improve upon his work in the past, he outdoes himself and the standard a lot of his forerunners have lived by in these eleven songs. This is a landmark recording in that respect, and if given a little bit of the exposure its contemporary releases are getting online at the moment, I think it’s going to make SKR a household name among indie aficionados.
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