Montreal Noise-Pop Outfit Suuns Leave Their Mark On New York With Deafening Set

Nick Helderman

Suuns are a Montreal quartet who make unexpectedly catchy songs out of odd, often unpleasant sounds.

The overarching idea seems to be to disorient at first and then seduce. The songs often begin with one sound -- a drone, a thud, an insect-like buzz or a repeated word. More pieces come in -- simple, repeating riffs or melodies -- until one unifying element, usually the beat or Ben Shemie's nasal, repetitive vocals, arrives and it all makes sense. The elements are often minimalist, but the way that overlap and coalesce into surprisingly appealing songs is where the art comes in. As guitarist Joe Yarmush puts it in the band’s bio, “It’s pop music, but sitting in this evil space.”

While the group’s first two albums, 2010’s Zeroes QC and 2013’s Images Du Futur, were solid and defined their sound, the new Hold/Still leaves them in the dust. The key element was producer John Congleton -- who helmed St. Vincent’s breakthrough self-titled album, and who opened this show -- who helped the band focus its sound without sacrificing any of the oddness. The songs are sharper, more refined and even more jarring: an echo-laden sing-songy bit will suddenly be disrupted by a chest-rattling sub-bass that would sound more like an electrical malfunction if it weren't so rhythmic. It’s an oddly addictive combination of pleasure and pain that's at the heart of the band's formula. 

Yet Suuns are also very much a rock band, and they’re at their best in a live setting. Drummer Liam O’Neill lays down a muscular backbeat that gives the other instruments -- two heavily treated guitars, keyboards/samples, occasional electric bass -- plenty of room to wander skyward. Thursday (April 28) night’s show focused on Hold/Still but dipped back to some of strongest tracks from its previous albums, like “Arena” from Zeroes QC and “Powers of Ten” from Images.

The band performed without much drama under unchanging red lights, and even if you brought weed, you didn't need it: the combination of secondhand smoke and mind-altering sounds did the job.