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A Sunny Day in Glasgow Brings Disorienting Dream-Pop to Town

Sea When Absent, the new record from dream-pop innovators A Sunny Day in Glasgow, is perhaps the best and most disorienting release of their career thus far. The group prods and pulls its music every which way, exposing its bare elements and then distorting them into something nearly unrecognizable. On July 23, the band brings its harsh and beautiful sound to Athens for a show at the Caledonia Lounge.

It’s been four years since the last Sunny Day record, and despite the band’s reputation for constantly rotating new members in and out (guitarist Ben Daniels is all that remains of the original incarnation), the cast from 2010’s Autumn, Again returns for Sea When Absent, marking the first time the group’s lineup has remained consistent between two consecutive albums in its entire seven-year run.

Not that you would know it from listening to the albums back to back. None of the stripped-down, quiet, electronic music of the band’s past shows up on the new record. Instead, there is a constant, ear-piercing haze throughout Sea When Absent; even the simplest, most cutesy melody sounds like it’s pouring out of the mouth of God.

The road to releasing the album was not easy. Though it was funded through Kickstarter in early 2012, it would still be a full two years before the record was completed and released. Lead vocalist Annie Fredrickson—serving as a sort of mouthpiece and translator for the band, as all six members responded to Flagpole‘s interview questions at once—says, “Getting everyone their Kickstarter rewards was one of the hardest parts about making this album.” 

It sounds like a joke, but in addition to limited-edition pressings of rare, past material, the list of prizes for donors included personalized mixtapes, a Weird Al-style parody of the song of one’s choice performed by the band, various instrument lessons, a one-hour discussion about conspiracy theories via Skype, a karaoke night out and much more.

The recording process was also unusual. Since all six members live in different parts of the world, they were rarely all in the same place at once. 

“Recording was mostly done at Uniform Studios in Philly, with everyone making pilgrimages out here to get their parts done whenever they could,” says Fredrickson. 

As a result, Sea When Absent has so many different moving parts and noises that it’s often hard to tell whether you’re hearing carefully planned-out pieces or complete chaos. Songs like closer “Golden Waves” almost sound like two or three tracks playing at once. (“Maybe you should check to see if you have more than one iTunes window open, just in case,” jokes a band member.)

On the subject of switching from the splintered recording sessions to the whole band playing on stage each night, Fredrickson adds, “The transition has gone smoothly… so far.” But the question of what the group thinks the new album sounds like ignites a firestorm of responses, each member trying to get his or her opinion heard over the fuzzy Idaho cell phone reception.

“We wanted people to hear the lyrics this time around. We didn’t want this to be a guitar record,” says one voice before being immediately interrupted by another: “Wait, this is totally a guitar record. What are you talking about? You’re an idiot.” It’s not long before everyone is trying to get a say in. “Did you get that?” asks Fredrickson over wild laughter.

In a way, the experience of speaking with the band is a reflection of its new album itself, which is fast-moving, with sounds and perspectives coming from every direction. There is a distorted sense of reality and an overwhelming sense of fun. Most of all, it’s really loud.

The future looks bright for A Sunny Day in Glasgow. The band’s increased critical profile has upped attendance to its shows and appreciation of its work in general, and from a younger, more vocal fan base. But the group’s members won’t let it get to their heads anytime soon. “We appreciate all the nice things people have said about the album,” says Fredrickson, “but it hasn’t made tour life in the van any different.”