You’d think that a band named after a furry animal and with an exclamation mark in their name would be pretty sparkly and happy. With Future Sounds, the second full-length album from Sunbears!, there’s a happy sound to many of the psychedelic pop/rock songs but the lyrics are downers. Continuing to play with opposites, there are lots of vintage influences on the album despite being named Future Sounds. The title is supposed to be cheeky: it’s music recorded in the past, being listened to in the present. Speaking of the past, this year marks Sunbears’ fifth anniversary. The Jacksonville, Florida band recently added two new members, making a quartet from what was once a duo.
Some songs have a Sergeant Pepper’s feel to them, which makes sense as the band has just been featured on a Beatles’ cover album curated by The Flaming Lips. They’re also easily compared to The Flaming Lips, given their psychedelic pop sound. “Don’t Take Too Many Things” has that Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band sound, with strings, shakers, big drums, and a little piano that add up to a theatrical yet relaxed song. “I Dreamed a Dream (That I Dreamt You)” has portions that sound like they could have come from a ‘60s or ‘70s sci-fi movie. Think psychedelic Star Trek: The Original Series with a bigger budget. There are a lot of spacey synth sounds throughout the album, “He’s a Lie! He’s Not Real!” is another intergalactic example. Though the band can be compared to Tame Impala and The Polyphonic Spree, they’re more like a combination of the two than similar to either one. Some songs capture the euphoria of Polyphonic Spree though they’re darker; they have similarities to Tame Impala but have less edge. The songs are rich with lots of varied percussion and “Love (Breaks All Sadness)” features layers of backing vocals, but still not to the level of the robed orchestra and choir of Polyphonic Spree. They don’t need that many instruments and vocalists: the songs are rich as they are.
Most of the songs have bleak lyrics and some actually describe depression. “A Sad Case of Hypersomnia” is just that, describing the need to sleep all of the time. Mixed with the strings, gentle guitar, soft synth, whistling, and lack of drums, it makes for a sad song indeed. The simple lyrics about being tired and immediately falling back to sleep upon waking plead for understanding. “I’m Feeling Low” is about wanting to do and be many things (like an astronaut, a better father, etc,) but being unable due to feeling depressed. It’s all sung with a Neil Young-esque delivery (though with much smoother vocals) and really evokes a feeling of depression and deflation. The song itself, like “Hypersomnia,” is kind of a simplified, deflated version of the overall Sunbears! sound, it’s beautiful but sad. “He’s A Lie! He’s Not Real!” is a critique of today’s society, noting that we waste our time staring at our phones rather than focusing on the people in front of us, missing things that we may later regret. “Laughing Girl!” which repeats a sample of a girl laughing from “I Dreamed a Dream,” notes that “Laughing Girl is laughing all the time, you can’t see her sadness deep inside.” So everyone is sad, even Laughing Girl. “Overspiritualized,” which adds distortion to everything but the guitar for an interesting sound, describes being let down despite promises from others. Despite sounding like the saddest title, “Now You’re Gone” is one of the more upbeat songs since he doesn’t know if he’ll miss you now you’re gone.
Sunbears! have a sound all their own, combining what others are doing in the genre with what artists have done in the past but adding their own take and creating depth. The sad lyrics juxtapose well with the big, theatrical, spacey music. The Sunbears! have grown on me despite committing one of my biggest pet peeves in band names: excess punctuation. It’s like a carton of exclamation marks exploded all over the track listing, too. So I apologize for all of the awkward punctuation we’ve had to struggle through in this review, but it’s worth it for this ear-pleasing psychedelic pop-rock album.