Writers often have a way of saying that they lucked onto something amazing – a piece of art, a text or a musician – completely by chance. It’s always easier tan admitting that you followed someone else’s tip or got there by following other related pieces of paraphernalia down the rabbit hole. But when I say that I discovered Suā (pronounced ‘Sway’) by chance, I’m totally telling the truth. I was in New York and at 10pm we decided to head to the Hypemachine showcase for CMJ Music Festival at The Brooklyn Bowl, a hybrid nightclub and bowling alley most famous for hosting DJ Questlove every Thursday evening. The Virgins were on the lineup, but true to their name, they were a little limp and awkward, so we soon shuffled off the floor and started hitting down pins and ordering chicken wings. One of our friends spotted Julian Casablances on a neighbouring lane right as we were about to leave, so we had to delay our game so she could fawn all over him. And then, way past midnight with most of the room already clear, this magical band started playing to an audience of about thirty people.
Anyone who knows me that I love talking even more than I love music, so it takes something pretty special to stop me mid-conversation. Halfway through Suā’s first song, I’d already gone quiet, and by the end I’d turned in my bowling shoes and moved quickly back towards the stage. A remarkably versatile mix of many of the less popular sounds of the ’90s smashed in the acerbic rhythms of post-punk millenium groups, the simple fact was that Suā were fronted by a woman with this amazingly commanding voice and presence (I think her name is Suki) and sounded so much better than anything else we’d heard that week. What primarily drew me to the band, aside from those epic, My Bloody Valentine-ish guitar textures, was the intelligence of their rhythms. There’s not one song on their EP – released for fre, by the way, you should get it now – that sticks to 4/4 or even an even amount of sections; it just flows together into this liquid skeleton that somehow still gets it together enough to stand up and fight. It was hard to pick only one tune, but it seems like ‘Jim Beam’, which I remember from the show, was recorded later and the vocals are further up in the mix. It’s probably the best indication of this kind of sensual, odd-time-signature groove they have going.
There’s a centre of gravity in the verse of this song that no matter how hard I try, I can’t precisely locate. That’s a poor indication of my drumming prowess or a testament to the seamless way in which the band have managed to sneak some ridiculous meter like 6/4 and 7/8 without anyone noticing. To do this properly takes a ton of practice. To write a guitar line that fits over that perenially shifiting bass takes even more. The odds of this being wholly unlistenable are stacked very much against the Greenpoint quintet, but they pull it off so well. Seeing it live was even better, but even here, it’s marvellous to witness how many different concepts they’ve fit into a small timeframe and made it work. It’s like The Superjesus meets some slower Yeah Yeah Yeahs tracks on the way to a 1997 Soundgarden show. Suki’s vocals arc and fall with the progression and although it resolves itself into a semi-normal chorus, there’s always those stray, flaying added notes to keep the uneasy, romantic shoegaze swoon alive and well. I don’t know if I’ll ever see Suā again but I hope they make it big enough to land a tour to Australia. They really reaffirmed my faith in rock music for the head in a week when most of it was completely the opposite.
Suā – ‘Jim Beam’