Words By: Gerrod Harris
If You’re a Fan of: The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, Neil Young
Latest Release: Northern Lies (March 10th, 2015, via MapleMusic Recordings)
It’s a rare thing to discover a new band with such a vintage, classic rock sound. Often when you do, it feels like an overdone formula: tired, lackluster, and sometimes even boring. Although this happens all too frequently, local Toronto rockers, Sun K, are an exception to this, and you can tell based on their impressive debut album, Northern Lies.
The first thing fans will hear are guitar feedback and a raspy voice leading the band in through a countdown into a smoothly played verse. This rough intro followed by the juxtaposing clean section is a sign of what’s to come: gritty rock with a fun, moving groove, constantly pushing and pulling between grungy and pop textures. The opening song, “Teaser Pt II” is a great swaying rocker. The emotion captured in singer Kristian Montano’s gravelly voice is raw, and the chorus line, “I’m ok, I’m doin’ fine” leaves the listener questioning if the subject of the lyrics is or is not actually alright. The band continues with their upbeat bopping love song, “Sweet Marie” which has everything from a crunching guitar riff, a tasteful solo, and an interesting muted trumpet line accompanying the melody. The third track, “Cowboys + Drugs” fits somewhere in between a slow rocker, and a ballad, but has a certain edgy swagger to it, and concludes with a great guitar solo. The up-tempo “New York City Blues” is another fantastic tune and a great example of a simple musical formula, and how it builds in complexity and density as the song progresses. The following song, “Land Of Kings” shows a sense of musical sophistication, in both its composition, and various, skillfully executed guitar licks. Don’t be mistaken by my next comment, as there is not a bad song on Northern Lies, but the first three tracks (“Teaser Pt 2”, “Sweet Marie”, and “Cowboys + Drugs”) are my favorite to listen to. Each of these three songs are catchy and fun, while remaining musically interesting and fresh to listen to. It isn’t hard to imagine these first three tracks being show stoppers in their live shows, getting the entire crowd belting the choruses along with the band.
As a band, Sun K make for a group of talented musicians with a strong sense of musical cohesion. The aforementioned Kristian Montano’s vocals play a large part in the contrasting feels of edge and smoothness in their music, with a voice which can convey emotion and tell a story, without sacrificing his rough tone. Kevin Michael Butler adds a tasteful quality to the band through his guitar parts as heard in songs like “Sweet Marie” and “Land Of Kings”. Stuart Retallack on the keyboard and trumpet adds an interesting dimension to the band, one that is often seen as a last minute addition, but rather his piano and trumpet lines constantly add something unique to each song. Bassist JuHang Sin and drummer Aaron Bravener make for a solid rhythm section, locking together, and providing tight grooves for the rest of the band to jam over. Sun K makes for an excellent band who have the talent, and song writing abilities to take their listeners through the stories their music tells.
Drawing deep inspirations from the past, Sun K have delivered a solid rock n’roll record, reminiscent of 1960’s and 70’s blues and folks bands while feeling modern, fresh, and relevant. Throughout the highly enjoyable listen through Northern Lies, one can hear hints of legendary acts such as The Rolling Stones, Lou Reed, Bob Dylan, and Neil Young. Sun K wears their inspirations on their sleeves, but do not let their inspiration get in their way of adding their own modern twist to a genre which has become as difficult to replicate without being overdone, as it is broad. Sun K’s live sets are just as great; I first saw them play a few weeks ago and enjoyed it greatly. Their stage presence mixed with their musicality makes for an entertaining combination, but after seeing them live, it will make one appreciate their recorded work even more. Sun K have managed to capture a very similar vibe from their live shows, and recorded it, adding an essence which propels their music forward. Sun K may be just the next big rock act to emerge out of Toronto, and if Northern Lies proves anything, it’s that sometimes, in order to keep moving forward, we need to look back for inspiration.
1: Teaser Pt II
2: Sweet Marie
3: Cowboys + Drugs
4: Let It Grow
5: New York City Blues
6: Land Of Kings
7: The Road
8: Hymn For The Living (One More Day)
Watch the Video for “Sweet Marie”: