The first full-length album by Seattle band
Sundae Crush is ‘A Real Sensation’
(Donut Sounds Record Co.)
It drops Black Friday, Fall 2020
Sundae Crush is the antidote to the feelbad reality-noir factor. A surreal personal galaxy of cotton-candy and cuckoo clocks, samba and sunshine, old 45rpms and Romance-in-Pictures comic-books. But although it lunges through the dimensional loop into full-spectrum space, this is a daydream band that writes ironic Disney Princess songs designed to crush modern ideas of romance through the autowrecker, so they come out either shiny-new, or toxic and unhealthy. The sassy tongue-in-cheek “Dudes Being Guys” snipes at the whole masculinity pose, while “Sensation” riffs in stereo from ear to ear attacking ‘I’m not your personal projection… I am a real sensation’ with a taunting na-na-na-nee-na-na thrown in for good measure.
Feature-track “Good Boy” has bouncy sixties-Pop bass and tambourine that they found on the Monkees cutting-room floor, with oozing cooing vocals, then they infiltrate a tacky little organ take-off borrowed from Syd Barrett’s scrapbook. “Good Boy” could be addressed to a dog – according to the video, who disappears through a wormhole to Saturn, only to return in mutant human-canine guise. She teases ‘Good boy, you’re no good for me’ – recorded and mixed by Jonny Modes, it first emerged digitally as early as February 2019.
Sundae Crush is a band genetically engineered for twenty-first-century Pop, they radiate wispy gauzy voices over strange Western plains. A perfect band for 45’s – for 90 and 180-degrees too. This could be an intense interview – or not at all. For this is a story about the outer limits of Pop, and how those limits are defined. A story of dreams and daydream believers, which starts out in Seattle with singer-songwriter Jena Pyle on guitar and flute. Although the sometime ‘DJ Candy Cowgirl’ actually hails from Texarkana, where she admits ‘The first album I bought was Britney Spears. I loved The Monkees TV show when I was a kid. I also loved Elvis and Buddy Holly, who I partly named my dog after.’ As a serious sound physicist she’s also something of a chemistry boffin in mixing influences. Influences? ‘I have so many’ she tells me. ‘A few are Talking Heads, Strawberry Switchblade, (Christina Schneider’s) Locate S,1, Stereolab. A lot of my friends inspire me with their creative projects like Claire Morales or Pearl Earl.’ Jena, with hair the edible texture of candy, was formerly an ingredient in the Layer Cake band, and she once recorded an mp3 cover of Patsy Cline’s “Strange” with Claire Morales. And Sundae Crush – ‘yes, it started out as a solo project,’ with her day-glo sounds now conjured into vivid reality in collusion with Emily Harris (guitar, vocals), Daniel Shapiro (drums, vocals), and Izaac Mellow (basshead, vocals), pairing groovy experimentation with a heartfelt Pop-pulse on a mission to delight your senses and tint your cool Ray-Bans a rosy hue. It’s a creative interaction? ‘Yes, definitely. We will jam on the idea together and they will add their own spin on it.’
They’ve shared the stage with anti-Folk Frankie Cosmos, (Samira) Winter, Canadian garage-rockers Peach Kelli Pop, and they once played a low-fi gig in a roller-disco beneath a slow-revolving glitter-ball. ‘I loved the Roller Rink shows because it was so fun to play in the middle of people skating. It was an ideal show for me for sure. But I’d say my favourite gig was when we played the ‘Rubber Gloves’ Rehearsal Studios on East Sycamore Street in Denton, Texas, before COVID hit. It had shut down for a while and I didn’t think I’d get to play there again. It was fun to go back after about five or six years. I think we have some great pictures from that show.’
Is Seattle a good place for bands? Are there supportive venues? ‘Yep! I think so. There are a lot of supportive people for sure. There were also a lot of house venues pre-Covid for local bands. ‘KEXP’ – the local independent radio station, plays a ton of local and national independent artists. I know KEXP streams around the world and it’s pretty big in the Pacific Northwest but I’m not sure how big it is elsewhere in the world. They also do a lot of in-studio live sessions and video content and other live performances that people can come and watch. Plus they have a gathering space that has a coffee shop, record store, and more. The KEXP ‘Audioasis’ is a really good resource, Sharlese is DJ and the ‘Afternoon Show’ producer & programming Education Manager, and I love what she did pre-Covid with panels for musicians.’
Now the first full-length Sundae Crush album – ‘A Real Sensation’ (Donut Sounds Record Co.), drops Fall 2020, on Black Friday, the feast of rampant consumer frivolity. After the 1:29-minute play-in “Kiss 2 Death”, which magics the wide-open spaces in a wordless whistle-tone movie-scene, there’s the Dancey speed-Pop “Long Way Back” with petulant bitchy attitude and a hint of Echobelly and the Primitives. “Babyface” is a drum-kick strum-fest with crashing climax, protesting ‘never wanted to be a Mom,’ with tempo-change, chiming voices and curling spiral guitar. There’s a lot happening in here, even soft horns. ‘“Babyface” was written in 2017’ she narrates, ‘while I was a tourist on a cruise ship for the first time and a little sick. I was taking NyQuil before bed. I had the idea at around 2am and recorded it quickly. That was the first half of ‘Babyface’. I was tired of having the same kind of relationship where expectations weren’t clear and I couldn’t drop everything at a moments notice for someone. So the second half for me is a reminder of ‘no more babies’. I think it’s funny we call our partners babies and that it’s especially present in the romantic Pop songs of the sixties by Phil Spector, who’s such a creep. I love The Ronettes though.’
Sundae Crush uses the kind of classic-group harmonies affectionately and studiously replicated by Saint Etienne. There are kookie vocal effects on another perfect day at “Green Lake”, and accelerating instrumental oddness on “La La”. ‘Whether you’re swooning over a new crush or avoiding the anxiety of a breakup, Sundae Crush are your friends, and their cosmic world is your escape,’ gushes the Grey Estates music-blog.
Earlier evidence up for consideration includes “Toxic Slime”, a sweet 1:51-minute digital release from February 2015 about a guy who won’t commit, with bass-player Sean McLellan plus sighing guitar, and the sad moral that ‘fairy-tale love don’t exist’. Then ‘Crushed’ – an EP from April 2017, which includes “Chatroom Messages”, the wispy “Ice Cream Run” with taunting teasing vocals, “Swept”, and “Dating Game 3000” which is a spoof Stupid Cupid game-show that asks ‘On a scale of 1-10, how pure are your intentions’ and ‘what’s your wifi password?’ before it soft-dissolves into flick-screen graphic collage-effects and ‘Dance To The Music’-style name-checking band-introductions. Of course, although Jena is the continuity, the band wore slightly different faces back then.
Now, beneath the sunshine-Pop of “Lick It Up” she’s accusing him ‘you’re so young and dumb’. There’s a midpoint conversation that stops on a pinhead, she says ‘You know what I want, Babe?’ He says ‘What?’ She says ‘Cool guys like you OUT of my life!’ Jena explains ‘That “Lick It Up” dialogue is lifted directly from the 1989 movie ‘Heathers’. It’s at the climax of the movie when Veronica (Winona Ryder) corners ‘JD’ (Christian Slater).’ I wonder how much of a serious Feminist agenda is at work there…? ‘Sure, well, I wouldn’t say a serious agenda’ says Jena, ‘but the way love is often talked about very idealistically instead of as a grounded reality where love actually grows. I’d say I was very inspired by ‘bell hooks’ in my early twenties.’ Yes, a Benetton mix of gender identity, race and capitalism were the themes of her books.
And “What Do I Need” – a 5:05-minute segue of two tracks in one, into a jazz-fluid jam that asks ‘what do I need to get out of my head? I’ve got a few things.’ Maybe a shot? Sex yawn, drugs yawn. Fun, yes. ‘What I need to get out of my head changes daily’ says Jena, ‘but some running themes are usually to ground myself in some way. Whether it’s meditation, taking a walk, talking to a friend… depends on the day. I realized I need more DJ-ing lately when my friend Gold Chisme did a set on ‘Twitch.TV’ for fun this week, it was like being back at ‘Mercury Lounge’ and I miss dancing with my friends!’
Dance to Sundae Crush. It’s only logical. Sundae Crush is the antidote to the feelbad reality-noir factor.
‘Hey Andy’ she closes, ‘thanks for reaching out!’ My 200% pleasure.
BY ANDREW DARLINGTON