Earlier this year, Eliot Sumner quietly released Information, one of the loudest, most ambitious, most exhilarating and inventive rock/pop albums of the decade, let alone the year. And I had no idea it was sitting on my hard drive until last month. Such are the perils of being a music blogger with an overactive downloads folder. After one listen, I promptly rushed out and bought the CD. And her last album too. And such begins our story…
There’s a moment every music fan longs for when they buy a new album at the store, bring it home, struggle to remove the @#$%*ing plastic wrap and security sticker, and pop it into the CD player, cassette deck or turntable. If you’re already saying — um, but what about streaming? — I say you are killing the music industry, but hey, who am I to stop you from reading this? #lovewins
Back to my story — there is a moment when you realize you are listening to something truly special, something fresh, something exciting, something that will likely ascend to its place on your list of the all time greats. I felt similar pangs of “wow” with Prince’s Purple Rain, Kate Bush’s Hounds of Love, Pulp’s Different Class and Against Me’s New Wave. I last felt it with Delta Spirit’s self-titled third album. Enter Eliot Sumner and Information.
For starters, I was blessed to listen to this a good five times before realizing Eliot’s last name was not SUMMER; but once I added that iconic “n” to the mix, some the puzzle pieces fit together while a few thousand more fell to the floor.
Eliot Sumner sounds nothing like Prince but reminds me of just how fucking fantastic it was to be a Prince fan in the early 1980s. Back then, Prince did few interviews and even the ones he did were maddening in their cloudiness. He didn’t tweet his every thought. There was a visceral thrill in getting to know him solely though his lyrics, videos and imaginative soundscapes. Was he black or white? Was he straight or gay? Will I live to see the Dawn?
Sumner has her own Pandora’s Box of mysteries, made all the more exciting because her music is so ambitious, melodic, dark, urgent and compelling. She has the (traditionally) first name of a boy and the middle name of a girl (Paulina); she went by a different name, Coco, on her last album and now cashes in her iconic family surname, one that neither her famous father or mother use. Gordon Sumner is up there with Reginald Dwight and Paul David Hewson in terms of Trivial Pursuit zingers.
When I first heard ‘Dead Arms & Dead Legs’, the opening salvo of Information, I had no idea if I was listening to a man or woman, a band or solo project, something modern or a lost classic. The cover art was no help, for a moment I thought Eliot might be Kim Deal in pseudonym or one of those gorgeously androgynous runway models. Being transgender myself, I am all for doing away with traditional gender roles and barriers. With such a blurry image on the CD cover, all you can really focus on is the music; similar to how I was three albums into New Order before getting a clear look at their mugs in the ‘Perfect Kiss’ video.
Information sounds like a musical kaleidoscope of some of my other all-time favorite records: Lykke Li (Wounded Rhymes), Peter Gabriel (So), The Police (Synchronicity) and Gotye (Making Mirrors); every time I play it, I hear something new. It gets more and more awesome the deeper it seeps into my soul.
Deep album cut, ‘What Good Can Ever Come of This?’ just might be my favorite song of the year so far…
The album inspired me to swim backward into Sumner’s catalog, the I Blame Coco record that I missed a few years back, but remember with a smile since my devilish greyhound was named Coco before we changed it to Gozer: The Destroyer (long story).
For some reason, the children of rock stars are not welcomed into the music industry with the same red carpet Tinsel Town rolls out to actors. Can you imagine a Hollywood without Michael Douglas, Angelina Jolie, Colin Hanks, Josh Brolin or even pre-meltdown Charlie Sheen? For musicians, nepotism can open doors to labels and producers, but it’s an uphill climb for credibility. I don’t blame Coco for this, perhaps Moon Unit Zappa — no wait, she gave us one amazing single, all is forgiven.
Sumner’s first outing, I Blame Coco’s The Constant, is a majestic pop record that I look forward to fully exploring if and when Information ever dislodges from the CD player. It includes buoyant but edgy pop songs and an ace cover of Saint Etienne’s cover of Neil Young’s ‘Only Love Will Break Your Heart’.
Information is a dramatic leap forward; with it, Eliot Sumner is well on her way to establishing herself as one of the great musicians, lyricists and songwriters of our time. Her voice was closer to Maja Ivarsson of The Sounds on the Coco record, but now the deep, rich huskiness of her alto is setting in to provide ample depth, mystery and beauty to her intoxicating soundscapes.
While I will mourn Prince and dig through his Vault for the rest of my life, I am comforted that the losses of 2016 (Frey, Bowie, Vega, etc.) are offset by the emergence of amazing artists like Sumner, Cait Brennan (read the amazeballs POPDOSE interview), Haley Reinhart and Allison Iraheta (profiled last week) and Angela Perley & The Howlin’ Moons (dig it here). Next week, I will spotlight amazing new records by two shoegaze supergroups: Minor Victories and onDeadWaves.