Sumac - May You Be Held review



Reviewer:
5.0

18 users:
6.89
Band: Sumac
Album: May You Be Held
Release date: October 2020


01. A Prayer For Your Path
02. May You Be Held
03. The Iron Chair
04. Consumed
05. Laughter And Silence


With May You Be Held, my quest to understand the appeal of Sumac remains unresolved.

Given how warm and lush the music of Isis could often be, Aaron Turner's work since the demise of that group has leaned heavily into esoteric, abstract and/or viciously harsh territory. In addition to the continued activity of Old Man Gloom, Turner has also released music under his own name and formed the supergroup Sumac with Brian Cook of Russian Circles and Nick Yacyshyn of Baptists. Whilst Old Man Gloom has played around with aspects of noise music alongside the fiery sludge foundation to their sound, Turner's solo work and Sumac have leaned far more heavily into noise/ambient music and abstract song structuring; given that these elements of Old Man Gloom were typically my least favourite parts of their songs, it probably isn't a big surprise that a project that focuses further on them is less up my street, but I have found Sumac particularly frustrating in the past, as these lengthy tangents into guitar feedback and freeform percussion have hindered my enjoyment of songs that otherwise contained quality harsh sludge riffs. Their sophomore record What Becomes One moved closer to my tastes, but its successor Love In Shadow went in the opposite direction, and May You Be Held sees Sumac stray even further from anything that I could consider to be enjoyable.

This five-track album is bookended by two pieces that focus almost exclusively on abstract ambient/noise music. "A Prayer For Your Path" opens the record with 5 minutes of sparse noise and high-pitched ringing tones; whilst a 2-minute version of this might make for a somewhat decent mood-setter for an album, having it last for a full five minutes only serves to unintentionally set my mood suitably in preparation for the rest of the record, namely one of irritation and disengagement. "Laughter And Silence", the lengthy closing track, also features periods with high-pitched ringing, but this, alongside some keyboards, acts as background noise, playing a supporting role to clean guitar, which plays a series of sustained tones throughout the track. The backdrop is actually somewhat effective, although hardly revelatory, but any goodwill it might build is undermined by the seemingly directionless sequence of notes played by the clean guitar. I'm sure Turner's playing on this track has been deliberately constructed, but the selected notes feel completely random, preventing any possibility for me to engage with the music, and the closing note exemplifies it, feeling as if the song just ended and they decided whatever note they played last would finish the album, rather than it being specifically selected. Again, I'm not saying this is how it was written, but this is how it sounds to me.

Although "Laughter And Silence" is an unsatisfying conclusion to May You Be Held, it is not the least appealing song for me here; that honour belongs to "The Iron Chair", quite possibly one of my least favourite pieces of music ever. Featuring a guitar line of varying distortion pretty much throughout, the guitar again feels like it is choosing notes at random, meandering with no clear structure or direction to anything, and occasionally transitioning into just noisy feedback. Alongside this are some random blasts of frantic guitar chaos accompanied with 'big song ending'-style drum solos; the percussion outside of these moments again feels unstructured. It's pretty clear this is not attempting to involve a conventional approach to music; with something as abstract as this, is it even possible to say that it's bad? I don't know, but I feel like abstract art, even though it veers away from normal ideals, should still evoke relatable emotions, and whilst irritation, confusion, boredom and desperation (for the song to finish) are relatable, I'm not sure they're positive emotions to induce. I feel like I'm not qualified to review this song, and maybe people with really avant-garde, noisy tastes will love "The Iron Chair", but I feel like I've enjoyed/appreciated enough avant-garde music to have some appreciation of what does and doesn't work, and I don't understand what works here at all.

These three noise/abstract pieces will likely polarize listeners just like they have evoked the above reactions in me, and there's every possibility several readers of this review will enjoy some or all of them. The two other tracks here, both lengthy beasts, are more likely to find wider audiences that enjoy them, however, as substantial portions of both are made up of menacing mid-tempo sludge riffs in the vein of Old Man Gloom. The title track alternates between sections such as this (including one punishing dirge reminiscent of "By Love All Is Healed" from Old Man Gloom's Seminar VIII album this year), and further abrasive guitar noise (one period of 5 minutes midway through does get quite draining), whilst "Consumed" has a droning introduction before it becomes consistently sludgy throughout. This intro to "Consumed" is probably the most satisfying ambient period on the album, particularly in the way it leads into the full band gradually joining in and transitioning into complex, aggressive riffs. "Consumed" is the one song from the album that I reliably enjoyed for most of the runtime; however, even then, it's not something I feel a huge incentive to return to. I feel like the sludge parts, whilst decent, aren't overly memorable, and Old Man Gloom can deliver similar riffs in more satisfying overall packages.

I was really hoping this would be a breakthrough record with Sumac for me; I've become more open to noise/ambient music and Turner had already put out two enjoyable albums this year with Old Man Gloom. Sadly, there was very little here that effectively clicked with me, and far more than either bored me or actively tested my patience. Comments on previous Sumac albums here and elsewhere have shown them to be divisive in the past, and I anticipate this record being just as much, if not more, so. For those that are looking for their music to be as esoteric, abrasive and challenging as possible, there is every chance that May You Be Held will work nicely for you; however, I doubt I will be alone in feeling as negatively about this record as I do.


Rating breakdown
Performance: 6
Songwriting: 4
Originality: 7
Production: 7


 



Written on 04.10.2020 by Hey chief let's talk why not


Comments

Comments: 7   Visited by: 55 users
04.10.2020 - 15:57
RaduP
CertifiedHipster
Filtered.
----
Father: How can a picture of a field be sad without a sad person looking sad in the field?
Young Woman: That's an interesting problem. Yeah, I struggle with that.
Loading...
04.10.2020 - 18:23
brimarsh
I was going to review this album, but when I started listening to it I realized there was nothing of merit for me to say. I couldn't even make it through this objectively.
Loading...
04.10.2020 - 18:57
Troy Killjoy
perfunctionist
Sounds like a drone jam session, aka recording random ideas and haphazardly throwing it together and calling it an album.

What's crazier to me is how they've managed to sell out of all their vinyl pressings. People are eating this stuff up.
----
I have no memory of this place.
Loading...
04.10.2020 - 19:21
musclassia
Written by Troy Killjoy on 04.10.2020 at 18:57

Sounds like a drone jam session, aka recording random ideas and haphazardly throwing it together and calling it an album.

What's crazier to me is how they've managed to sell out of all their vinyl pressings. People are eating this stuff up.


Some of the guitar parts honestly sounded to me like someone absent-mindedly playing without any purpose, and decided to record it and put it into a song without altering it
Loading...
04.10.2020 - 19:27
tea[m]ster
Au Pays Natal
I could never get into this band. Disappointing because Isis is one of my favorite bands of all time.
----
rekt
Loading...
04.10.2020 - 19:54
Troy Killjoy
perfunctionist
Written by musclassia on 04.10.2020 at 19:21

Some of the guitar parts honestly sounded to me like someone absent-mindedly playing without any purpose, and decided to record it and put it into a song without altering it

That might be exactly what took place tbh. People have recorded worse things lol
----
I have no memory of this place.
Loading...
05.10.2020 - 11:58
baldur
After listening to the title track for 3x and more, I gotta say Im really digging this.
You guys need to take time and listen to the whole thing more than once. Definitely acquired taste!!
Loading...

Hits total: 534 | This month: 534