Sunday, April 05, 2015

Sunday's Best ‎– The Californian (2002)

If there is ever some sort of indie rock awards, someone please make sure Sunday's Best vocalist Ed Reyes gets a nomination for best vocals. No doubt it's easy to overlook, but to a large degree Reyes' tone and melody help carry the L.A. quartet on their sophomore LP for Polyvinyl Records. The music onThe Californian is even more stripped down and simplistic than their debut full-length, Poised to Break. Thankfully Reyes has such a heavenly voice, for just about any other vocalist would surely find a way to ruin these pop songs. Sunday's Best has definitely matured, slowing things down and seeming content with good songwriting and hooks galore instead of the dual guitar wankerings and yelling vocals seen on their past works. The story behind the album involves lineup changes, divorce, drug abuse and recovery, and everything that comes along with it. That being said, it's easy to understand that there are a few dark undertones on some of the tunes ("Don't Let It Fade," "The Salt Mines of Santa Monica," etc.). It's all pretty subtle, but The Californian is one of those pleasant indie pop albums that will fly under the radar with many, but surely deserves a listen by all. And although this theory hasn't been tested, The Californian is most likely a great summer driving record, as is typical of the best indie pop albums. While the front of the album seems to be a bit stronger than the latter half, both parts chime in with the acknowledgement of strong music written well and executed with the capability that only comes with great maturity.
Kurt Morris

For those of you quick to jump to conclusions, I'd like to cut you off and mention straightaway that this album isn't even half as emo as the cover art makes it look. The guitars rarely rage, the meters are never odd, and the vocalist never wails like a possum in heat. If I were to label them at all, in fact, I'd just call them a pop band, plain and simple. Popular prefixes like 'power' and 'post' need not apply.

And so it goes that all over The Californian, the second full-length from the L.A.-based four-piece Sunday's Best, the guitars chime melodically, the vocalist never yells at you, and a guy known as James Tweedy (no relation) studiously offers up utilitarian basslines with a minimum of flash. The funny thing about all this is that Sunday's Best used to be totally emo, but somewhere between their debut and this album, they seem to have realized (possibly through their own introspectiveness) that they weren't very good at it and would be better off moving in next door to Sloan and the Posies and honing their songcraft.

Critical flippancy aside, the band has undergone a lot of cataclysmic change in their lives between records, including divorce, exiting members, rehab and rough tours, and these life experiences have lent more authenticity to their music. Vocalist Edward Reyes is suddenly a smooth, capable singer with a bit of 70s AM honey in his voice and it suits him, though sometimes the double tracking that's heaped on feels a little overdone. That's hardly the only cue the guys take from the 70s, though, as the chorused guitars that crop up frequently are quick to remind.

Like most pop bands with guitars, Sunday's Best are at their most affecting when the songs are trimmed of excess fat and drive the melody straight home. Opener "The Try" is nicely arranged, with several contrasting rhythmic feels, each of which appropriately support the lead material they're given. Drummer Thomas Ackerman and co-producer Tony Lash (ex-Heatmiser, drummer for No. 2) keep the sound crisp and clear and are always sure to have Reyes' voice up front and center-- an important move, as his tenor is easily the most distinctive element within the band.

Ian Moreno's lead guitar parts play a nice second fiddle to the vocals throughout the album, never intruding on Reyes' space, but adding a little more interest to the backgrounds. Yet, despite the musical subtleties present, it's a shame that the band hasn't made more attempts to broaden their overall sound, as the sonic uniformity of The Californian begins to wear as it progresses. "If We Had It Made," with its surprising, tasteful incorporation of bells into the arrangement, hints at something more expansive in the band's future.

If Reyes is the band's focal point, it certainly helps that his lyrics (co-written with Ackerman) aren't half bad. The lightly rocking "Our Left Coast Ambitions" is one of the record's best tracks, featuring sarcastic calls of "Hooray for Hollywood!" and a lead guitar part with some unusual volume and crunch, while "Beethoven St." is straightforward and unapologetically nostalgic for the street Reyes grew up on. Part of what makes "Beethoven St." work is that the feeling of nostalgia is conveyed through imagery, rather than through the whiny "I wish things were the way they were"-isms that too many songwriters get bogged down with.

Sunday's Best stretches out the structure of the final song, "Los Feliz Arms," utilizing loud/soft dynamics and some guitar heroics likely left over from their early days, but keeping it reigned in enough that you don't forget it's a pop song. But that, of course, is one of The Californian's primary shortcomings: it's just a bit too polite. I'm not advocating a feedback frenzy or a screaming fit on any of these songs, but the band could stand to be less afraid to let loose and step a bit outside of the ultra-comfortable pop trappings they're now calling home.

Between that and the overall single-hued feel of the album, it's hard to recommend this to just anybody, though fans of guitariffic indie pop should find it pretty easy to swallow. The Californian is a fine, if inessential sophomore effort from a skilled band that could be on the cusp of something great if only they'd let their guard down.
Joe Tangari

After putting out "Poised To Break" a couple years back, it quickly gained Sunday's Best, a relatively unknown band to that point a lot of attention. It landed on tons of year end top ten lists (mine included), and rightfully so. It was a sometimes subtle, though always catchy pop rock record that also fit well into the oh-so-marketable emo category. Then they hit a period of Behind The Music style band killing hardships.

One founding member, and songwriter leaves to join The Jealous Sound. Another gets divorced, and ends up in rehab. What next? Break up, purchase suits, and get real jobs? Go the Jimmy Eat World route, and pump out an ultra marketable, major label cheese bomb? Nope. Instead they regroup, recruit a new member, leave rehab, and record what is easily their best record to date.

"The Californian" is an obvious departure from "Poised To Break", though it is also a bar-raising, career defining sort of departure. The songs are more subtle this time around, though it's just as catchy. It's just that you have to listen to each song a few more times before they're stuck in your head. It's all but impossible to pin any sort of "emo-core" tag on these boys this time around. Maybe that was the intention, but I would guess they don't really care either way. The songs are generally pretty slow, but they're roll down the windows and enjoy the sunny day slow. The highlights here are a bit less obvious right off the bat, though there are a number of them. The first tracks to pop out are the unforgettable near-ballad "Beethoven St.", and slightly more rocking "Our Left Coast Ambitions". But "The Salt Mines Of Santa Monica" is also not far behind. The whole record though is well thought out as a whole, with each song in just the right spot on the record. So there it is. I'm fucking gushing, but I can't help it. This record has been a bit of an addiction for me since I got it weeks ago.

This will floor the Matador Records, big collared shirt crowd, and the younger pop rock crowd all at the same time... Outstanding.
Stuart Anderson
Kaffeine Buzz

Sunday's Best's Poised To Break was a solid debut, displaying a band that could write melodic indie rock songs that went from straight ahead power-pop to an emo-esque style. On The Californian, however, they find themselves and gel as a band, making their sophomore offering the complete package, an album that sounds like an album from start to finish (rather than a collection of songs, which Poised To Break sometimes felt like).

Another thing that makes The Californian a milestone for Sunday's Best is that it doesn't wear its influences on its sleeve.Poised To Break was quite catchy, but seemed to take the easy way out and find quick relief in the bands that Sunday's Best was trying to emulate. The Californian takes the high road and comes together quite nicely.

A lot more focused and methodical, The Californian doesn't leave the rock out, however it is not a power-pop record by any stretch of the imagination, and it doesn't even hint at emo.

"The Try" sounds pretty. The borderline falsetto vocals of Edward Reyes makes the song sound approachable and heartfelt, without making it sappy or whiny. All the while, Sunday's Best does what they do best, offering up rhythm section-driven rock music propelled by the guitars, which go from sparkling and sweet to noisy and distorted.

"Don't Let It Fade" simmers with its rich, melodic structure, dripping like rain on a windowsill after a hard day's rain in the sun. Reyes' voice sounds like it is reminiscing about a girl he used to know, one he thought he could help, tried to, but always wished he could do more. As he sings about this person in his life, you start to form an image in your mind of a girl you used to know. One that fits the same description he is painting for us, and you can't help but cry a tear or two for that special someone.

On "The Salt Mines of Santa Monica" Sunday's Best throws caution to the wind, cranks up their amps, and goes for it, ripping out a rocker that blazes the trail with loud guitars and a speedy tempo. Somehow, they manage, amongst the guitars buzzing, to keep things melodic and explosive, hooking you and reeling you in for a well-composed rocker that feels quite comfortable in any environment.

Following it up with "If We Had It Made," an easy-going, gentle number that just sits back and allows you a little time to think, the quartet sums up what they're all about. Having fun, rocking out, and still serving up music that will get stuck in your head as you sing along and get motivated to search inside yourself and think about life.

"The Salt Mines of Santa Monica" and "If We Had It Made" fit so beautifully next to each other. They are Sunday's Best's two extremes, a rocker and a song that is gentle enough to put you into a slumber and have peaceful thoughts.

"Our Left Coast Ambitions" is another buzzing rocker, while "Without Meaning" counters its rock-ness. Throughout the album the band is able to mold these two songs styles into one, letting go of it for a bit to lean one way over the other, before coming back to the center and doing what The Californian will surely be known for. This is a well-thought collection of strong, lingering songs that won't leave your mind any time soon after you hear them.
Alex Steininger
In Music We Trust

Sunday's Best ‎– Poised To Break (2000)

Poised To Break--a CD title displaying the haughtiness of a band, or a humorous jab at the state of the Indie Rock scene? A fickle scene where many have the sounds and smarts to make it with the masses, but instead we get hammered with watered down diet grunge from too many bands that sound too much alike. In all actuality, never has a CD title fit the sound contained within so well. The only other title that would've worked would be "10 Kick Ass Songs You Should Spend Your Milk Money On."

You know how sometimes a song can awaken a long forgotten memory or make you reminisce about parts of your life? Like a half forgotten childhood summer. That's this entire CD. Tracks like "Bruise-blue" and "White, Picket Fences" brings an emotional upheaval of memories that you can't pin down. The lyrics, music and vocals all blend together in a perfect pop smoothie. You can hear possible musical influences throughout the CD as well. "Saccharine" and "Winter Owned" gives you a harder Knapsack type quality in places, but "Where Is Pearl Harbor Day" demonstrates a pure pop innocence that is lacking from many of the bands out there now. Then we have the bonus untitled instrumental track at the end of the CD which is purely an audio delight. These guys can meld with their instruments in a state of perfection to create a flow of sound not to be rivaled. Watch out Pele! Being an instrumental, that is the only tune on the CD that doesn't demonstrate Sunday's ability to give each song lyrical progression--like a story unfolding, instead of writing a catchy song just to have a catchy song. You become part of the story behind each track and from there you're lost in the CD until it comes to what will seem like an abrupt end. Not because it doesn't flow well, but just for the plain and simple fact that you want more and more!

All in all, this CD is an amazing mixture of early Sunny Day Real Estate, the new pop sense of Promise Ring and bits and pieces of Built To Spill. But the best part is that they can take those sounds, add their own style and flavor to come up with a CD that once you listen to all the way through will stamp you for life. But just remember that if you look like a mess, you must be a mess.
Jeff Turner
Hybrid Music Reviews

Like a number of the bands on Polyvinyl Records, Sunday's Best play a type of indie pop/rock with prevalent punk roots and elements of emocore, particularly the naked emotion and tough-guy angst. And like the majority of those peers, they generally make a pretty competent racket. Unfortunately,Poised to Break ultimately isn't very interesting in any particular way. At this late stage in the game, it's difficult to bring anything new to the pop-punk template, considering literally hundreds of bands long ago strip-mined that particular vein until it was bled dry. With that particular cross to bear, Sunday's Best nevertheless try to climb the mountain once again. The results are expectedly tepid for most of the album, and surprisingly the band doesn't even manage to generate a whole lot of sonic excitement to cover for the lack of interesting ideas. They do manage a few fairly nice moments -- the new-wave guitars of "Indian Summer" and the solid "In Beats Like Trains" -- that you wish they had used as centerpieces from which to create their own personal niche, but on the whole they simply have a go at making the type of album that countless indie pop-punk bands made throughout the 1990s, and many of them much more successfully. The band neither writes particularly catchy hooks nor explores any of the potentially intriguing individualities within their chosen sound, and it leaves the music flat and lacking any sort of intensity. Labelmates Aloha and Pele have both released gorgeous albums full of exploratory music by throwing out the formula entirely and exploring styles such as jazz and progressive rock, but within a rock structure. Sunday's Best, however, doesn't seem to have the capacity to build upon their influences in any meaningful way, nor do they show a desire to. Hardcore fans of indie rock will inevitably find something they like on Poised to Break, but for the listener who needs more than a retread of already threadbare ground, it is best bypassed, perhaps for one of their more adventurous labelmates.
Stanton Swihart

Crashing in with a raging pop hook that makes me think of the Police, but more energetic, and even in the songs clean sound you get a pure raw edge. The guitar drives and the vocals go straight through you, leaving the hook in your throat until you're singing for days. When the mood slides down to a more steady breath pace, the vocals move up into the atmosphere, and float, achingly. There's a cohesive element in the songs, one that ties the album together through the perfect stars of sometimes pop punk and sometimes almost 80's rock glitters of inspiration. The lyrics make you feel, either in that heartbreak I can relate way, or with just a simple smile. Indie hearts here, beating with sounds that match your soul, and as long as the music plays... this summer will never end. Anthems for right now, my room fills with guitar, and sometimes it gets so sad you could weep, sometimes... it's like the perfect Sunday, and you just grin like the music.
Marcel Feldmar

This is the type of record that your girlfriend will steal within one week of your purchasing it, and you probably won't even care. Sunday's Best sounds a tad too earnest and sensitive for those who like their rock on the abrasive side. Sure, there are parts here that rock, but the overriding attributes are the sugary melodies and pristine harmonies. The band's production techniques have improved immensely from its last seven-inch, but the vocals have jumped way too high in the mix. Each song has a distinctly sing-songy chorus, but unlike most emo/pop punk bands the singer can actually sing.

"The Hardest Part" is a high-energy pogo rocker in the vein of early Superchunk, but the band owes a royalty check to Sting for copping the verse melody from "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic." Seriously, listen to them both back to back. It's uncanny. Sunday's Best then tip sits hat to Radiohead on "Bruise-Blue." The vocals mimic Thom Yorke's Bends-era falsetto, and the chiming guitars recall Radiohead's quieter moments. It's obvious that the band is taking itself seriously enough to warrant such a sensitive disposition, which is unfortunate because it's almost always bad news when any band gets too self-aware.

"Saccharine" has an infectious chorus that's hard to dismiss. It's another Superchunk-sounding indie punk anthem: "We want it and we want it now." The dual guitars thrust the chorus along. Borrowed or not the band has an ear for melody. As mushy as "Indian Summer" is it's definitely got the hooks to make the ladies swoon. Sunday's Best is not far from Third Eye Blind territory. I'm not sure if that's a concern of the band's or not. It may very well want to be on MTV's 120 Minutes. Who knows? The lightly rocking "When Is Pearl Harbor Day?" is the type of song any band with a hint of testosterone would bury deep in the back yard and never speak of again, but Sunday's Best trots it our proudly- simpering lyrics and all.

The 'emo' tag may seem harsh, but Sunday's Best truly pushes the limits of sappiness just over half way through its debut full-length. "In Beats Like Trains" the band takes some sort of underdog-feminist stance, and it comes off not preachy but forced: "The girl you used to tease is rolling up her sleeves/she finds everything she needs in the pages of the books she reads." Does this band think its pop punk's answer to Belle And Sebastian? Any chance of redemption is lost on "Looks Like A Mess." It surges with resignation and these somewhat embarrassing lines: "Drank it up slowly as I looked at the only people in the room/'it's ok to admit that you had been laughed at' said Mr. Deacon Blues/then some fool laughed and 'high fived' the bar-back."

Sunday's Best is clearly targeting the sensitive crowd with these mawkish ballads disguised as pop punk rockers. Turning up the guitars in the chorus doesn't save a song from being a ballad. Just when you're ready to write the band off as another overly sentimental punk band a song like "Winter-Owned" hits you with its undeniably catchy vocals and sharp guitars. Whoops, "Congratulations" brings it right back down to reality. Cheesy sentimentality wins after all. What a shame.
Eric G.
Drawer b

From the somewhat unnerving homage to The Police’s “Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic” on “The Hardest Part” to the vocals which sound like a watered-down mix of Thom Yorke from Radiohead and Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters, everything about Sunday’s Best evokes other, more interesting bands. Everything on Poised to Break is completely derivative. There are no original ideas anywhere.

It is almost difficult to say that Sunday’s Best or Poised to Break is bad, because this music is designed to be utterly non-offensive. They place their poignant pauses just where you’d expect them to fall, and the vocals are just earnest enough to convey emotions without committing to them. Guitar chord progressions are generic and played with neither inadequate nor extraordinary skill. Even the hidden jam session at the end is in just the right place and lasts just long enough. All of this would almost be admirable if it actually seemed like thought was put into it. Instead, Sunday’s Best just seems to be on autopilot, playing by the textbook rules for a band of four white boys.

While it would’ve been nice if the lyrics somehow saved Sunday’s Best, revealing some profound and intelligent awareness of the human condition, this is, unsurprisingly, is not the case. They’re either whiny or forgettable, but usually both. “Some things are lost and some things, I guess, get found,” they sing obviously on “When Is Pearl Harbor Day.” Even when they touch on subjects like domestic abuse, like in “Indian Summer” (“How did you get that bruise on your shoulder? / You are so Sisyphus / Just pushing on your boulder”), they do little more than just touch on the subject. There’s no insight or understanding about any of the situations they sing about.

Poised to Break is fortunately easy to disregard. It’s almost harder to actually pay attention to it. While this would otherwise be a criticism of a band, it’s probably the most redeeming quality of Sunday’s Best. You can effortlessly ignore them. Find a CD by one of the bands that Sunday’s Best is unmistakably descended from and listen to that instead.
Eden Miller

Sunday's Best delivers sharp, melodic power-pop-emo with intriguing lyrics you actually want to listen to. The songs are hooky, stylish, and full of bright beats that get you moving while the guitars will burn inside you. A bit too pop for emo, but a bit too emo to be just pop, they combine the two styles and brand it with their own party-boy, heavy drinker rock touch. Songs about girls, drinking, and partying may seem shallow, but they add substance and solid backing to the widely covered topics. But, even if you're too snobbish for the lyrics, the melody will get you every time.
Alex Steininger
In Music We Trust

Sunday's Best ‎– Where You Are Now (1999)

Sunday's Best display punk roots on their debut EP Where Are You Now, but they mix it up with some slow, spacey passages and dense arrangements.
Steve Huey

This band is highly underrated. I think they have 2 CDs out now and they both ROCK! If you like indie/emo rock this is a must have. they arent very hard, they have a nice sound that will touch your heart in the deepest way. Where you are now is an album for that special someone or for just you to think about the past, present, future, or pretty much anything. it will make you sad, happy, and satisfied all at once.
Amazon's Customers Reviews