San Francisco, I think, can be sort of like a West Coast version of Chicago. That is, there’s sometimes a marked, almost celebrated element of “posh” there, juxtaposed with some real desolate urban grit, taking on the form however in the Golden Gate City of rampant, crazy heroin usage instead of the almost cinematic murder epidemic we hear about in Chi-town.
With this being the case, the music that emanates from this city, perhaps now more so than when skate-punk ruled, seems to occupy a sort of “high culture” territory, to try to separate from the city’s more shameful half. The obvious comparison would be Chicago themselves, as well as the Windy City’s Urge Overkill. Even more along these lines, the song titles on Long Shadows bespeak an attitude of the deliberate or attempted “worldly” — they allude to faraway places Tokyo, Machu Picchu and New Orleans, calling to mind the apparent tendency rich people have to sort of gloss over what’s right in front of them, fishing for topics of conversation which are more chic, or in style, if you will.
I don’t think there’s any question that this very disposition shows up in the music — within arguably the “punk”-est city in the entire world, at least per tradition, the Sunrunners make no attempt to be punk whatsoever, the glossy, synth-riding grooves of poker-faced grandeur summoning a far more distinct conception of The Killers or more recently, Seattle’s My Goodness. In fact, I definitely sense a new style of music materializing here — yuppie rock! Hey, The National needed some company there, maybe.
The whole thing starts to be fairly tolerable, certainly, on the album’s strongest track “We Are at War” (it’s like they finally admitted that life isn’t all caviar and bubble baths), when this grainy, sort of seedy piano run crashes the party about three quarters of the way through. In general, Long Shadows is ridiculously similar to the band’s old material, a malady which can be pardoned slightly for just the fact that nobody’s really heard of these guys, so the feathers in its cap are where they can deviate from their overall strategy, but claustrophobic, overly professional sounding drums plague Long Shadows pretty much from start to finish. The result is a glaring lack of personality, of STYLE, basically. When on “Pine Cones for Tatiana” Stephen Loase sings “We are smoking dope / Outside a record store” (first of all calling it “dope” makes it sound like some youth anti-drug program), he shifts things back to the tired, cliched world of romance instead of letting on any sense of San Francisco’s seediness, but there’s not enough surrender evident here to make it a legitimate love song. For all of what I hear as the Sunrunners’ effort “not to suck,” apparently (a saying which, hey, came from Chicago), they have siphoned all the fun out of this music, all the humanness. Still, the band plays with tight enough grooves and the drummer seems well trained enough to definitely make this some listenable, if not necessarily innovative, dance rock. Also, though fairly general and almost generic, certain lyrical revelations to unveil themselves — “Don’t waste your time / When you’re not strong enough” in “N’orleans”, “Try to sedate the sun / And black out the moon” in “Sailing,” for instance, give us a sense of Stephen Loase’s poetic knack, the main problem at this point being that his target audience seems to be the overly privileged and well-heeled.