Album review: Sundiver - The Pull

Spaced-out arrangements. Chunky, muddy guitar riffs. Down-tuned vocal harmonies. Echoes of the alt-rock greatness of the mid ‘90s. Any one of these features would be enough for me to give an album a listen; putting them all together is pretty irresistible. Kansas City rockers Sundiver have successfully merged this quartet of genre-defining factors, presenting them to the music-listening world in their debut full-length effort The Pull, recorded and engineered by Neal Brown at Harrisonic Studios and released in December of 2013.
The genesis of Sundiver occurred in early 2011 as guitarist/vocalist John Agee and bassist/vocalist Bobby Bayer started preliminary work on the general band concept. After the addition of Nick Organ on drums and Joseph Wells on guitar and keyboards, the fully-formed foursome released the EP Vicious in the spring of 2012. Upon the following release of The Pull, a brief tour took them to the west and southwest US. At press time, Sundiver’s focus is on that big annual music festival in Austin that gets a bit snippy sometimes when its four-letter acronym is used.
The album opens with “Lover’s Comfort,” which starts out as the closest thing you’ll get to a space waltz before the chorus settles in on the steady, driving sound that will power the rest of the record. Its pace is unhurried, its voice is mid-range, but its focus is clear. Sundiver is going to take you on a trip that is beyond earthly borders over the course of The Pull’s 43-minute lifespan, and there is no reason to rush or hurry. The destination will be there, so let’s enjoy the journey. Soaring guitar lines bring an added rush of energy to the song’s second half, which generates the momentum that will keep things rolling throughout the album.
The descriptor of space rock is often used in a mostly light and airy musical tone, but this album is relentless, hard-driving, and filled with gigantic arena-sized riffs that could easily fill any venue they play. No track epitomizes that more than the title tune, an eight-minute exercise in sublime intensity. Bayer’s bass threatens to dig a trench in the floor and drag the listener down into the mud and mire, with the twin guitar battalion of Agee and Wells and the thunderous drumming of Organ making this must-listen material for anyone yearning to put on the flannel and the Doc Martens once again.
Three of the nine tracks are mini-instrumental breaks that offer a chance to pause, take a breath, and prepare for the next segment. I’m sure there are stories behind their titles (“EV,” “F=G[(m1m2)/(r^2)],” and “C8H11NO2”), but you’ll have to ask the boys in the band. Given the nature of the band’s sound, it wouldn’t be surprising if the second one was a formula for rocket fuel and the third the name of a distant galaxy that serves as Sundiver’s muse for its intergalactic melodies. Perhaps there’s a connection with Area 51 buried within the lyrics? Instructions on the art of creating crop circles? Hmmm…
When I listen to the record, a variety of bands stand out as potential influences, directly or indirectly: Hum, My Bloody Valentine, Shiner, early Tool, and—for me, anyway, as I am an unabashed fan of this band—King’s X. The comparison to the latter is especially evident in the album’s closer, “Relevant.” The vocal style, the churning bass, the powerful-yet-melodic percussion… if imitation is indeed the sincerest form of flattery, then Ty Tabor, dUg Pinnick, and Jerry Gaskill should be feeling exceptionally honored.
It was the English poet Robert Browning who wrote in 1855: “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?” Sundiver has chosen to extend its reach beyond the surly bonds of Earth and grasp at sounds fit for the stars. The Pull illustrates their success within their first LP…
…and it seems that, in this case, the sky may not be the limit after all.
Your next chance to see Sundiver will be Saturday, March 1 at Czar, with special guests In Aeona and A Light Within. Show starts at 8 p.m. Ticket link.
--Michael Byars 
Michael likes Mexican coke, smooth jazz, Aero bars, and noses that are not bloody. We hear he has a big birthday party coming up. Gasp! 

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