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Wall Sun Sun: An absolute must-hear

Wall Sun Sun‘s Oranges is one of the most brilliant albums I have heard all year. Their unique fusion of fiercely acoustic aesthetics, complex rhythms, extremely catchy melodies, tight harmonies, and surrealist lyrics results into a fascinating, mind-bending indie-pop album.

The band is not a usual set-up. There’s an excellent tuba instead of a bass guitar. There are seven vocalists–three male and four female. The four female vocalists often sing in incredibly close harmony, sometimes even sounding like one voice. The percussion is split between two people, both of whom sound like they are standing waaaaaay at the back of the room for recording. There is no distortion on this record and very few (if any) electric guitars; most of the songs sound like they are played on a nylon-string guitar.

All of this personnel comes together into a fresh, compelling sound–sort of like the enthusiastic pop of early Bombadil meeting the dense vocals of the Polyphonic Spree in a Shins-ian acoustic setup with Vampire Weekend rhythms. Got all that?

Those complex, Vampire Weekend-style rhythms are a big element of this record; none of the tracks have a traditional four-on-the-floor approach to the drumming. The speedy rim-and-snare interplay of “You” meshes with the tropical guitar melodies and rapid-fire vocal performances to create an impressively complex song that yet sounds light and fun. That style of speedy-yet-not-invasive drumming is almost omnipresent, lending a unique vibe to the work. It even gets a turn in the spotlight: the snappy, punchy bass-and-rim percussion of “Menageries” forms the main arrangement for a great bulk of the tune. The intriguing complexity of the percussion approach lends a lot of interest to the record.

It’s a bit nerdy to focus on percussion before vocals, because this album really is about the catchy melodies and tight harmonies. The album owes a lot to doo-wop and tropicalia in its vocal approach, as the female vocalists often sing in such close harmonies that my wife wondered if the sound was a vocal effect or just incredible performing. (My wife is a vocalist. They’re that tight.) The male “lead” vocals are yelpy and fun, from the serious “Rely” to the goofy “Comedian” to the standout pop tune “Gold.” The melodies are the sort that can’t be wrenched out of my head for days: I’ve been humming “You” and “Gold” and “Menageries” and “Comedian” non-stop over the past few weeks. It’s just a great collection of songs with an indelible approach.

The songwriting itself is commendable too; there are tempo shifts, tonal changes, hard left hooks, big moments, subtle movements, and more. It’s the sort of exciting, whizbang songwriting that keeps the listener constantly on toes. The lyrics are just as fun and interesting–they’re surreal in a Bombadil sort of way, where things start off normal and slowly get weirder and weirder. “You,” “Comedian,” “Life,” and “Guessed” are all tracks that have endearing “wait, what?” moments in the lyrics.

So Oranges is the whole package: from the unique personnel to the fresh songwriting approach to the impressive vocal performances to the surreal lyrics. It even comes with a digital form of liner notes, charmingly twee press photos of the outfit all dressed in orange, and beautiful album art. There’s nothing to knock in this record: it’s simply one of the best things I’ve heard all year in all respects. If you’re a fan of indie-pop, this is an absolute must-hear. Highly recommended.