“Sea When Absent,” the just-released third album by the chaotic pop outfit A Sunny Day in Glasgow, is noisy and joyful and full of hooks — maximalist music that peals out of speakers, a sound so large that it’s equally appropriate for rainy-day brooding and top-down carefree summer days. Guitar squalls and meticulously realized vocal melodies crash together on “Sea,” and the results are often joyous — thanks to the band’s unwillingness to hew to a single definition of the ever-slippery term “pop.”
In the capable hands and sharp minds of ASDiG, hooky, immediately accessible music can be as informed by the silky R&B of Ciara as it is the distortion-heavy maelstroms of the Cocteau Twins. “It’s difficult to say what ‘pop’ might be, and I think it’s very difficult to explicitly state what might make a great pop song, because it’s so many things and not always the same thing,” says Sydney-based ASDiG founder Ben Daniels by e-mail, on the eve of the band’s summer tour to promote Sea. “But melody is important to me.”
For all the noise made on “Sea” — and make no mistake, it is an album full of cacophony — Daniels’s assertion is borne out by tracks like the “In Love With Useless (The Timeless Geometry in the Tradition of Passing),” which uses fuzzed-out guitars and electronics to propel soaring vocals, and the languorous “The Body, It Bends,” which hitches shimmering guitars to a loping bassline and plaintive vocals. Then there’s the late-night-worthy meditation “Crushin’,” on which whisper-soft, dreamy vocals punctuated by twinkling keyboards give way to a triumphant, squawking guitar solo before returning as the central focus.
A Sunny Day in Glasgow
“[Vocalist] Jen [Goma]’s melodies on that one made me think of Prince,” says Daniels, “and the lyrics she wrote suggested Smokey Robinson’s ‘Crusin’,’ which I love so much. The title for me, while conveying what we wanted to about that song, was also kind of an homage to Smokey’s song. For some reason when I heard Jen sing, ‘Hey, come on back to me,’ it really just reminded me of ‘Baby, let’s cruise.’ Nowhere near as smooth, obviously.”
With Daniels based in Sydney and the band’s other members — Goma, Josh Meakim, Annie Fredrickson, Adam Herndon, and Ryan Newmyer — split between Philadelphia and Brooklyn, N.Y., much of the brainstorming for “Sea” occurred virtually. After working out some demos beginning in late 2011, the band fleshed out the album’s details while scattered around the world. “Jen and Annie started trying out melodies and e-mailing me their ideas, and then I would have ideas and write them back,” recalls Daniels. “Then Ryan, Josh, and Adam were going into the studio to add parts, and I was recording stuff in my apartment and sending that to them. We got together again in January 2013 and took a lot of ideas back into the studio together, and then mostly had it done.
‘It’s difficult to say what ‘pop’ might be . . . But melody is important to me.’
“Ha,” he adds. “I suppose that is a long way of saying that e-mail is where a lot of the ideas exchange happened.”
Despite the physical disconnect between the members, “Sea” sounds very much the product of a band. Songs take unexpected twists; the vocals of Goma and Fredrickson bubble into the mix just as quickly as they might drop out of it, with the occasional electronic glitch adding just enough of an off-kilter feeling to command the ear. “Sea” was the first album by the band to be recorded in a proper studio by an outside producer (Jeff Ziegler helmed the album at Uniform Recording Studio in Philadelphia), although its bedroom origins are still evident.
“I was hoping that this process would bring more clarity to the record and a more ‘high fidelity’ sound,” says Daniels. “It didn’t entirely work out that way — in the end I had to mix it on my not-amazing gear as opposed to the amazing gear in the studio. But the process was definitely another learning experience, and I think that that is something I need with each album.”
That stretching will be on display when the band plays Great Scott on Thursday — the band’s big bang will come out of three singers (Meakim also sings, and Daniels is quick to note that he “truly has a beautiful voice”), two guitars, two synths, and two samplers, as well as a bass and a drum kit. “We have to tweak songs like crazy [when we take them on tour], but that is also part of the fun,” says Daniels. “We talk a lot about how we think we can make something work, and then we practice it a lot. It’s mostly just hard work and a little technology.”
A willingness to work hard and maybe end up somewhere unfamiliar is part of what makes ASDiG one of the most compelling bands in the rock world — their sound has a lot of parts, but it’s uniquely theirs. “I guess I like a pop song where the singer couldn’t be someone else, and that is something that the listener picks up,” says Daniels. “[A singer like that is a] person who has thought about their limitations and what is interesting about those limitations, what they can push. I feel like that’s how we all get somewhere cool.”