There’s plenty going on conceptually with The Suede Puppies, I think, like a situation where they’re constantly having to answer questions about what kind of band they are while simultaneously projecting whatever genuine artistic visions they actually have. At the end of the day, I think, the question of what kind of band they are is more or less unanswered (krautrock, psych-pop, lo-fi be da**ed), other than, simply, a pretty good one, one which does many things other bands can’t do.
The most important of these things is probably just writing good, catchy songs, and in general The Suede Puppies are at their best when they stop trying to be Can or the Beatles and just roll out a simple tune, free of gimmick. “This New Road” would be right around what I’m veering toward here, nigh-on three minutes of fuzzy twee guitar and naïve, eye-glistening vocals from Sam Eakin which finds his musical command no longer traveling by time machine to 1970, instead drawing on ’90s lo-fi like Bettie Serveert and Wheat for a nice, listenable tune with an understated gravity about it.
Bandcamp bills The Suede Puppies as “an indie piano band playing the music of Sam Eakin,” which is indeed kind of a refreshing conclusion of a band’s identity, and which of course belies the fact that this album opens with a minute of electronica straight off of the Audubon (which also happens to kind of rock, as it were), and a shameless Beatles/Olivia Tremor Control ripoff “Blue is the Color of the Sun,” which also, ahem, happens to kind of rock.
In general, Eakin’s voice can adopt the tendency of getting a little dainty, like overly emotive, and also emulating Ben Folds a tad bit. The lyrics, though, tend to make up for it with creative flairs that delve deeply into real-life maladies like rape (“Triumph”) and overwhelmed conscience (“St. Michael of Amsterdam”). On “Summer’s Ending,” I totally thought his voice was a girl’s in the introduction, with its high-register “ooh-ooh”’s, until he sidles down to earth for a nice verse melody to compliment the song’s light, synthy (but not ’80s-ish, amazingly) groove. With this track and the ensuing one the band do something pretty interesting at large, I think, which is develop a sort of electronic psych-pop style, where, instead of leaning on the “trippy” high jinks of ’60s acts like they did earlier in the album, just let the songwriting genuineness and effective lyrical imagism create the sort of multi-sensory effect, which in the end it does. Also, each of these songs has a nice way of crafting out its own sort of groove, on “Pink Skies” of which is these spiky synth eighth notes which give the track a sense of urgency, something which is needed after the already poignant “Summer’s Ending.” With so much going on in the band itself, too, which is yes a “piano” band in a humorous sense seeing as it seems to employ at least three different synths in a given track along with the old-fashioned permutation of the instrument, it’s easy to lose track of the percussion, which, though manifesting in the form of programmed drums, also does some talking of its own on the album. The prime example is “St. Michael of Amsterdam,” which finds a blistering-paced, six-eight run of sixteenth notes galvanizing the proceedings into something really modern, while all the while the pop song Eakin has crafted here is deliberate, patient and juicily constructed. Unpacking the meaning of this sort of latter-day saint think-piece, I think, would be a whole other project in itself, one which hopefully garners the attention of a religious studies scholar or two over the next few blustery winter months. With song’s like “Summer’s End” and generally contemplative odes, Subtle should definitely make a decent soundtrack for them, one way or the other.