[record review] Sulk “Graceless”

SULK Graceless

Released 04.15.13 via Perfect Sound Forever

Shoegaze dominated the British alt-rock scene of the very early-‘90s, with torchbearers My Bloody Valentine, Chapterhouse, and Ride releasing some of their most memorable material and establishing a sonic blueprint for future bands. Now two decades on from the genre’s heyday, London five-piece SULK are the latest entry in the seemingly-endless wave of shoegaze renaissance acts. But beneath the surface, Sulk aren’t just paying tribute to the early ‘90s; they also draw influence from the baggy Madchester scene of the late ‘80s, borrowing pop sensibilities from bands like the Stone Roses, the Charlatans, and the Inspiral Carpets. It’s a swirling musical cocktail that’s oft-repeated, but still generally accepted and encouraged in anglophile circles.

Sulk began making waves with the release of their first single, “Wishes,” in August 2011, and that track along with its November follow-up, “Back In Bloom,” caught the ear of BBC radio DJs and music journalists. In the spring 2012, Sulk went into the studio with renowned producer Ed Buller (Suede, Pulp, Spiritualized), where they crafted debut album Graceless (out last month in the UK, while the US vinyl version drops July 2 on Deep Space Recordings). Clash magazine dubbed it “blissed out ‘90s nostalgia.”

Graceless’ tracks would be right at home on Ride albums like Going Blank Again and Nowhere, or Blur’s debut Leisure. Sulk lacks an affinity for the heavy feedback and distortion favored by other shoegaze groups, and overall, Graceless is an easy-going album that stands as a tribute to the British music scene of the early-‘90s.

Kicking off with the airy guitar intro of “Sleeping Beauty,” Graceless clocks in at just under 40 minutes. Singer Jon Sutcliffe’s dreamy, reverb-heavy vocals could easily be mistaken for Ride’s Mark Gardener, while “Flowers” sounds like a 1992 radio single with its catchy guitar riffs and vocal melodies. As Graceless continues, Sulk’s dream-pop template unfolds and intertwines, leaving us wondering if we’ve fallen into an early-‘90s time warp: standout track “Marian Shrine” features a grungy bass line topped with psychedelic guitar hooks; “If You Wonder” is Sulk’s danceable ode to the Madchester sound; and album closer “End Times” is a sweeping number that masquerades as an early Lush single (albeit with, you know, male vocals).

Overall, Graceless is a solid record and an intriguing debut, but much like their heroes from decades past, the real trick will be expanding their sound to break from the standard shoegaze-revivalist restrictions.

Graceless is currently streaming in its entirety on Sulk’s Soundcloud page.

The band is currently on tour in the UK.