A collage of carousel bliss, terrifying clown faces, and other surreal carnival characters, Sun Club’s album cover serves as the perfect introduction to their debut LP. In the first track, “Glob,” a maniacal laugh and/or cough plays alongside a circus-like organ and children’s laughter and screams before bleeding into the reverb-soaked guitar of the next track. The organ and the clownish voice return elsewhere, reminding us that, like its art, The Dongo Durango is a kind of perverse carnival.
Throughout the album, even when Baltimore-based Sun Club’s expansive guitar-pop reaches its sunniest peaks, they maintain a sense of ghoulish humor. The word “punk” comes to mind—in part, because the yowl-laden vocals recall the genre—but mostly in the way that contemptuous old ladies use it in reference to preteens passing on skateboards (for example: “Oh dear, those punks have some nerve”). Three out of five members of the band, Shane and Devin McCord and Mikey Powers, have been playing together since they were preteens, so perhaps the youthful brazenness is a tribute to their origins. Or maybe it comes from the odd pleasure in their song names (“Language Juice,” “Cheeba Swiftkick,” “Puppy Gumgum”), or the bizarre interludes (see the end of “Carnival Dough” or “The Dongo Durango”)—but Sun Club does have some twisted, delightful nerve.
At first listen, that unruly boldness generates some effects that make The Dongo Durango difficult to penetrate. The hollering, reverberating voice and distorted guitars sound distant; the songs are frenetic; and their structures are somewhat opaque. The more you listen, though, the more the music comes into focus. On songs such as “Beauty Meat,” Sun Club trades off between hooky melodies and guitar riffs and odd time signatures, which throws the listener off balance while propelling her on. Occasionally dipping into the sentimental yelp of Local Natives’ indie rock and the idiosyncratic yelp of Animal Collective’s experimentalism, Sun Club makes for an interesting ride through a warped version of pop.
Some of those tough-to-access elements are also the flipside of how the album derives its wild energy. Sun Club recorded the album live over a month in an old warehouse-turned-studio, which not only accounts for the echoing sound, but also for the lack of restraint. They successfully captured the sound and feeling of seeing a band in person. You don’t hear all the lyrics when you see a show, nor do you pick apart the chord phrasings, but you certainly do get your body moving. And isn't that one of the greatest things music makes you do? Exhilarating as it is dizzying, The Dongo Durango is a depraved carnival ride you will want to ride again.