I first encountered Abram Shook’s work when he was a member of The Great Nostalgic. They put out two full-length LPs, the second of which we ranked our number one album of 2011. It was a nearly perfect record from a clearly supremely talented songwriter. Since then, the group has disbanded and Shook took a brief spin in Feverbones, which put out one pretty darn good EP early last year. Today, Shook releases his debut solo LP, Sun Marquee, and it continues his incredible win streak.
The record comes with a great local pedigree, with Danny Reisch and Erik Wofford getting their hands on the mix at various points. However, it is a tricky record to promote. It doesn’t fit into any easy categories, isn’t making it to radio any time soon, and probably won’t attract the attention of the uber-hipsters at places like Pitchfork. Check out lead single, “Coastal,” which was recently featured as a KUT single of the day:
This is a beautiful song, with easygoing guitar parts that are as much Californian as they are West African. It creates a hazy, dreamy vibe that morphs into an enchanting chorus before immolating in a wash of chaotic sound at the song’s end. It’s a delirious ride, but hardly the best song of the bunch.
That distinction, in my opinion, goes to the bouncy “Distance,” which sounds like a more sophisticated version of Vampire Weekend’s debut record, maybe with a bit of Hall & Oates soul in there. It’s irresistible, one way or another. And it’s hardly alone. “Recovery” is the stuttering, syncopated album opener, accented by fluttery synth touches. “In Mind” is a surefire “hit” with its driving Broken Social Scene-esque rhythm. While its percussion is more straightforward than some of the other tracks, its soaring harmonies will make it a fan favorite.
The album’s entire first half is odd enough to be interesting, but accessible enough to draw in tons of new fans. The last three tracks, after “Coastal,” start to lose a bit of steam and focus, but still retain enough interesting elements to make them engaging (like the bridge on “Lifeguard” with its intertwining lead guitar parts).
There are critical differences between this record and The Great Nostalgic’s work. For starters, Shook’s lyrics have taken a much more opaque quality. He doesn’t clearly portray interpersonal scenes on this album the way that he used. Instead, though, he focuses on emotions and images. Snippets of life, rather than narratives. It’s harder to break into these lyrics, but at times, just as rewarding.
Sun Marquee illustrates Shook’s growth as a songwriter. He’s clearly comfortable exploring sounds and feelings in a way beyond what he could do in a traditional band setup, and has produced some truly wonderful songs from his newfound freedom and skills. Check out his album release show this Friday at the Mohawk with Good Field and Royal Forest, and be sure to grab his album the next chance you get.
– Carter Delloro