Sypmphonic salutations, my lil’ chickadees! I do believe we have reached the appointed hour for me to regale you with another tale from the depths of the Phonovault!
Today I am raving my mouldy socks off to the earth-shaking sound of a band beyond compare. I refer, of course (check the title if you’re still unsure) to Cincinnati’s Sundresses, a three-piece who re-invigorate the stagnant art of great guitar music in thrilling new ways.
For far too long, the sweet sound of the six-string has been misappropriated by charlatans whose intentions and abilities fail to do it justice. Such a time-honoured tool has been used to create masterpieces, allowing the greatest craftsmen of successive generations to innovate ingeniously and shape our future. In far too many hands, however, you may as well be giving Rembrandt’s paintbrushes to a baboon.
The Sundresses are here to reverse this downward trend. Combining punk, blues, rockabilly, dark country flavours and 1930’s swing, with a hefty dose of acerbically arch, politicised lyricism, they don’t do what everyone else does, and that’s what makes them great.
Yes, we could fart about listing their influences, but, unless you’ve listened to the Sundresses, nothing else you’ve heard matters at all. These genii represent the rebirth of the Great American Band.
Best of all, they like to play loud. I’m all for subtlety and understatement, and the Sundresses are dab hands at that too, but, good Goddamn, when they turn up the volume and hit you with the aural equivalent of a cranial bludgeoning, they sure are fun!
All three members: alternating guitarists/singers/drummers Brad Schnittger and Jeremy Springer (yeah, I know what you’re thinking, ‘Cincinnati? Springer?….Jerry?’ No. not that one. If only….) and diminuitive bassist/occasional trombonist Makenzie Place are deft, intuitive musicians, up there with the best, but what really hits you is how much they seem to be enjoying themselves. It’s incurably infectious.
It was never meant to be this way, though. One of the most joyous aspects of the Sundresses is the way that, whilst being politically forthright, they don’t take themselves overly seriously. Delve a little into their history, however, and all becomes clear…
The band were initially formed in 2002 as a joke, and booked their debut show before their first practice. The following year, they self-produced and released a full-length album, The Only Tourist In Town, for friends in their local area. As far as they were concerned, the band was nothing more than an amusing hobby. Little did they know…
Not only were other people listening, they were loving what they heard. Their ninth show outside Cincinnati just so happened to be South by Southwest festival 2004. Naturally, this got them a truck-load of attention, as did their appearances there the following three years, alongside tireless (to the point of being tyreless! arf!) gigging and touring across the States.
The Sundresses DIY ethic is formidable, self-recording their material and releasing it through The All Night Party, the Cincinnati label they were instrumental in founding.
They strip music back to its bare necessities, casting aside all the fripperies and technological mumbo-jumbo that lesser bands rely on to pad out their lack of imagination. The Sundresses are a REAL band, playing REAL music for REAL people.
Loud, inventive, intense, anarchic and humorous, with a diabolical swing in their step, it’s no wonder audiences have been known to explode into outbreaks of freaky dancing at their high-octane gigs. With Schnittger and Springer regularly swapping places, and Place sporadically busting out a trombone that’s larger than she is, they have gone down in cult lore as something akin to orchestrated riots.
Then there’s their recorded output, mercifully shorn of all unnecessary production meddling, but utilising extra instrumentation, such as honky-tonk piano and brass, allowing their superb, and often totally bonkers, songs to shine. Though their attitude may be punk, their music encompasses, digests and spews out all kinds of everything.
For instance, check out their alternative State of the Union Address for the Bush government era. ‘Barkinghaus’, a furious yet often funny deconstruction of American ‘values’ that perfectly encapsulates the inherent contradictions of their nation’s war-like patriotism in alternately insightful and side-splittingly comedic terms.
What this means for us all, though the vast majority may not have realised it, is that the Sundresses may be the saviours of us all. By playing guitar music as if their lives, and that of the few surviving legends (watch your backs, Chuck Berry and Duane Eddy) depend on it, they balance the polemic power and the pure rock fury of rock music with the ability, unlike too many others, to remember to entertain to the utmost.
Their respect of music history is what sets them apart. While your average politically-minded muso might imagine that Woody Guthrie, and his barely-re-formed spawn, the exalted Dylan, are the be-all and end-all of rootsy polemic rockin’, they’ve got another thing coming…
The Sundresses mercilessly plunder all manner of music to best deliver their damning indictments of political amorality and financial greed. From the lascivious lurch of Weimar-era cabaret to spit’n’sawdust bar-room blues and raucous, slide-guitar-slathered cowpunk, they may be a ‘roots’ band of sorts, but their roots are clearly spread wider and set deeper than most.
Gleefully shambolic, but invigoratingly intense, the Sundresses are everything a great rock band should be. I cannot lie, The Sundresses are my thing. They float my boat, they tickle my pickle, they rock my world. Let them into your lives, and they will doubtless do the same for you.
Dr A.F.W Curio
Tags: Barkinghaus, blues, blues rock, blues-punk, country, country rock, country-punk, DIY, guitar, jazz, jazz-punk, punk, Rock, rock'n'roll, Roots, slide guitar, Sundresses, swing, The All Night Party, The sundresses