A Sunny Day in Glasgow
Nitetime Rainbows EP
(Mis Ojos Discos; 2010)
By Lindsay Zoladz | 18 March 2010
While most people had their minds on the rather terrestrial business of ranking the Hype Records of ’09 like so many tennis pros, A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s otherworldly Ashes Grammar fell to earth like a meteorite, an unexpected artifact from a distant, uncharted planet. And if it didn’t end up with a competitive seat near the top of your list, chances are it’s because you didn’t hear it. Across genres, Ashes Grammar was one of the year’s most compelling hours of music—a stream of lush, emotive melodies (as composed by chief songwriter Ben Daniels) highlighted with fuzzy synths and angelic female vocals. Though it’s an undeniable pop record, its best songs—like “A Close Chorus,” “Shy,” and “Nitetime Rainbows”—were almost operatic in structure; its hooks soared to a place beyond the limits of even the most anthemic choruses. But for all its colossal ambitions, the emotions Ashes Grammar transmitted were both intimate and familiar, like a continuation of a collective dream pop music’s been having for years. “Every generation deserves a Loveless (1991),” they seemed to be mumbling with a sly assurance, “so…here.”
Before even listening to Nitetime Rainbows, it’s clear it doesn’t promise the same level of grandeur the Philadelphia band achieved on their last release. Comprised of three new songs and three remixes of the titular track, the EP functions as an adequate—though, predictably, not nearly as mesmerizing—corollary to their previous release. In contrast with most of the songs on Ashes Grammar, which tended to bleed into those surrounding them like watercolors, “Daytime Rainbows” sounds more self-contained, mostly thanks to the steady percussion that thumps through the foreground of the track like a heartbeat. Following track “So Bloody, So Tight” would have fit more seamlessly onto the LP: stirring synths and ethereal vocals provide subtle hints that they’re building towards something goosebump-inducing, but the particular sublimity of the song’s climax (here it’s a synth riff drenched in JAMC-esque distortion) is surprising enough to knock the breath out of you.
Aside from the title track, though, these two new songs are easily the highlights of Nitetime Rainbows. “Pianos Lessons” creates an inviting atmosphere, but it doesn’t deliver the pay-off that the previous two (considerably shorter) tracks do. The remixes don’t fare much better. The first, done by the Buddy System, employs the most conventional methods of the three, chopping up snippets of the original to create a hyperactive composition that sounds like a schizophrenic “Rainbows” having a sputtering conversation with itself. This remix denies much of the original’s charm, the fluidity with which it passes through a number of different hooks, abandoning them and leaping deftly to the next before each is even given a chance to become repetitive. The next two remixes—Benoit Piuolard’s and Ezekiel Honig’s, respectively—don’t commit the same error; they’re much sparser meditations on the original track. I like Ezekiel Honig’s take best: the repetition of a bending, mournful note and a stammering breath works nicely as a minimalist take on A Sunny Day in Glasgow’s almost biorhythmic aesthetic. Intriguing approaches, but at no moment do these remixes even come close to improvements upon the existing formula. If anything, they serve as reminders of the unerring brilliance of the original and invitations to start the EP over at track one.
The EP itself doesn’t amount to anything great, though this is not to say that “Nitetime Rainbows” is not the kind of song that deserves an EP—or perhaps a small island nation—named in its honor. Because it is. But the EP sputters too often into simple adequacy, which is frustrating knowing how high this band can soar given enough room for a proper take-off. A Sunny Day in Glasgow, I think, are a band particularly ill-suited to the EP form; and I say this as one of the highest compliments I can give them. This band can do incredible things: contain sweeping grandiosity and tiny intimacy in one breath; they can collapse the actual sky with the veiny one you see when you look at the sun with your eyes closed; and I’ve little doubt they will perform other impossible tricks on their next LP. Nitetime Rainbows has its moments of bliss, but they aren’t as enveloping as I’d hoped; the problem here is that you wake too early from the dream.