by Jim Di Gioia

March 18, 2018

Hold/Still is a masterclass in building tension and release.


On their third full-length album, 2016’s Hold/Still, Suuns continued their exploration of the polarities that started a year earlier on their critically adored collaboration with Jerusalem In My Heart. That record’s inevitable collision of sounds, styles, and cultures, as well as the relative speed that the initial recordings were laid down, likely influenced their process with Hold/Still. For the most part, it’s a record free of overdubbing, so in essence, its songs are live moments of stifled momentum and placidity forced into action, captured precisely as the band performed them; begotten, rather than made. At the time, Suuns had to change up their game from 2013’s Images Du Futur and take their musical partnership to the next plane, exercising an incredible amount of focus, and making every move with intent. The results at the time were (and still are) mesmerizing, and they have likely sustained Suuns’s creative trajectory through their most recent release, Felt.

With each advancing verse, “Resistance” feels like it’s slipping a gear, never fully letting go but for a few breathless, euphoric seconds. The whole machine feels like it could fall apart because of one worn out tooth. It’s an imminent, wholly satisfying collapse that never materializes. Some bands build tension and release; Suuns’ playing on Hold/Still epitomizes it. “Fall” kicks off with a dissonant blast of sound and feedback that’s immediately tempered by “Instrument”, with its sober Krautrock rhythm. “Mortise and Tenon” moves at a measured pace, allowing vocalist Ben Shemie room to draw out his words and let minimalist synth notes hit their intended targets. It’s one example of many on Hold/Still where Suuns take a single note and wring it out for all it’s worth.

In contrast to Felt‘s more playful aspects, there’s an underlying subtext of danger to Hold/Still —a phantom menace lurking in the shadows of “Nobody Can Save Me Now” and “Paralyzer” that offers yet another contrast to the album’s more melodic moments. Whichever aspect of Suuns’ music initially catches your interest, you’ll inevitably find yourself captivated by Hold/Still‘s exhilarating nose-dives from one pole to the other and the effortless way they balance their art between such extremes.

Jim Di Gioia

Jim founded the music blog Quick Before It Melts in 2006 and was its principal writer until 2016, when its decade-long run ended 10 years to the day it started. DOMINIONATED is its spiritual successor. Jim currently serves as a Polaris Music Prize jurist and Prism Prize jurist.
Jim Di Gioia

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