The best that I can be. 

Paper Bag Records • 2023

Sunnsetter’s Andrew McLeod reminds us all that we are always at our best when we are most ourselves.

There is a moment from the start of the pandemic that epitomizes what being “the best that I can be” means to me. My day job requires a modicum of formality when it comes to workwear, but I’ve always been the most casual of my two other colleagues, one of whom loves his suits and always looks put together, even when it was just the three of us collaborating on a project. Still, in March 2020, when the three of us logged in for what would be the first of a quadrillion work-from-home virtual calls, I never expected to see him sitting in his basement office in a full three-piece suit with tie and handkerchief. For context, I was an anxious wreck trying to make sense of what was happening all around us, wearing my most comfortable hoodie and sweats, and colleague number two was about as casually dressed as me. It was at that moment, as the three of us stared at one another through our screens for the first time (and while two of us waited as the third excused himself to change into something more comfortable), that I realized that my days of forcing myself to present as ”in-control and in-charge” was over. I wasn’t giving up, but I recognized that if I were to make it through the pandemic with my mental health and well-being in check, I had to accept that some days, online meetings in hoodies and sweatpants were going to be the best that I could manage.

I imagine that Sunnsetter’s Andrew McLoed gets what I’m talking about. Spending time with their latest album, The best that I can be., has been cathartic in a way that no other pandemic record has offered. Multi-instrumentalist McLeod spent the better part of the last three years crafting the exquisite The best that I can be. as a document of its creation process as much as a statement about their state of mind. “During [the album’s creation],” McLeod says, “I have grieved the loss of a close friend/bandmate and continuously dealt with my journey of sobriety and struggles with mental well-being, concepts around gender identity and queerness; while simultaneously, of course, being thrown into even more chaos via the pandemic.” In announcing the record, McLeod says that they hoped that listeners, whether familiar with Sunnsetter’s music or not, would intuitively feel the genuine expression of the album’s title in every note. Mission accomplished. Out of the disorder and uncertainty they experienced when the world was shutting down and falling into confusion, McLeod finds a musical clarity and throughline to his lushly layered melodies and chiming guitar-and-synth compositions. 

Sunnsetter has always been a deeply personal and vulnerable project for McLeod, but unlike some of their emotionally heavy previous work, The best that I can be. is buoyed by exuberance and lightness.  as on the album’s first single, “Float in Circles,” a song that honours McLeod’s lost friend. On the swooningly beautiful “Always Talk, Never Speak,” McLeod sings with grace and poise as they summon the courage to embrace the place they are in. “I’ve lived with the struggle of presenting my truest self to the world for a long time,” McLeod says of the song, “and no longer want to live that way.” On “Surely Everything’s Alright,” McLeod sings the title’s refrain as a personal mantra and a reassurance for the listener. Resplendent with charming shoegaze dreaminess, it’s undeniably the centrepiece and thematic heart of an album bursting with understated optimism and empathy. 

“Today Feels So New” and “I Hear A Voice” are sanguine songs that swell as years-worth of weight and worries lift off McLeod’s shoulders. They flow into the MBV-indebted closer “I Can’t Forget,” whose driving rhythm, curling and euphoric guitar lines, and mostly instrumental arrangement are all the language McLeod needs to communicate the lengths they’ve traversed on the journey to this moment. For McLeod, giving up was never an option, but The best that I can be. doesn’t shy away from the fact that survival and success were not a foregone conclusion. It is in permitting themselves to shed the pretense and protective layers we all wear like a suit of armour (or, in the case of my colleague, the bespoke three-piece variety) that McLeod reminds us all that we are always at our best when we are most ourselves.

Empty Nesters