The last album I reviewed by Tyler Sullivan was a unique one, entitled This Man. The cover picture, which, I did not know at the time I reviewed This Man (which is still available on Independent Review for all to read), is actually a composite sketch of what a wide variety of people from various parts of the country, who don’t know each other and come from various walks of life, have all described as a “character” in dreams they’ve had. One can even look it up on the internet. Just do a “Google” (or whichever search engine you prefer) search, using the words “This Man” and you will get not only the face which adorned Tyler’s previous work, This Man, but is also all over some websites that deal with this supposed phenomenon. When I did check, I found that there are more than just this one composite image: there are actually a variety of similar head shots of this face. Each one being a little distinct from the last, but all have something ethereal, otherworldly about the faces.
On Tyler’s latest, Soft Peaks, looking at the CD cover, I can see that it looks as if he’s taken to using that particular face which featured prominently on This Man as a kind of “logo” on Soft Peaks. It is on the front cover of the CD, but a smaller sized picture in the lower left-hand corner. The music continues in a similar vein: atmospheric waves of ethereal ambience in which his very distinct vocal sound can be heard.
The lack of percussion on here actually works well for what Tyler was doing with the album. His unusual, but recognizable and distinct voice makes the songs all the more haunting and mix well with the reverb and echo sound of the synthesizers and the occasional guitar.
To give an example of some of what the album is like, let me try to go through a few songs here: the opening cut is “Way Free”, which is soft, deliberate and almost Southeast Asian in its influence. Think of a simple, folk song you might hear while on holiday in places like Vietnam, Southern China or Tibet and then over that, layer some electronic ambient sounds which emit a very mellow point of view. Actually, what I was describing, really can be attributed to the album as a whole. “Judith Neelley”, “Deities Reign”, “Entropy” “Self-Help Tapes” and “No Wave Brother” all go seamlessly well together, each having the aforementioned atonal tone which can be bewildering to a newcomer, but when you listen to it over and over again you’ll soon be mesmerized by its overwhelming simplicity and how that can fool you into a false lull. The seeming simplicity is really a factor of Sullivan’s great skill at songwriting and producing.
This is another album one should listen to, all in one setting, so as to appreciate the whole, which is much greater than the sum of its parts.
The final song on Soft Peaks is a 56 second tune, entitled “What a Friend We Have ‘N JeSuS” [sic]. It is, as the other songs are, hard to make out exactly what the lyrics are. Of course, it isn’t impossible to decipher them, it’ll just take a few listens through, to get at what he’s singing. As for this last tune, it’s hard to make out just, exactly, what Tyler is trying to say or symbolize. Is he really just breaking down an old christian hymn, remixing it, in effect, giving it a space-age wax job? Or is it a kind of satirical/sardonic title, which takes its title, which suggests that all the sheep of christianity are never really alone, for they have a “friend in JeSuS” (as he spells it out in the title)?
This is the type of great, indie material that I love to receive for reviewing. Not only does it make it easier to review, when it’s a good album, but it’s also something I like to do: that is, to turn people on to new music, stuff they may not have heard before. I’ve had many a pleasurable moment, playing something for a friend by a band, like, say, Stereolab, to one who’d never heard Stereolab before and what makes it so rewarding is when that particular person likes it and from thereafter, gets more and more into them on their own. That is one of the joys of reviewing: sometimes you have to go through a lot of either duds or just lukewarm material before striking it rich with a vein of pure gold. Something that me, myself, I will listen to, on my own, over and over again, long after the review is over.
As in the previous review I did (for This Man), I was unable to find very much biographical information about Tyler. However, one thing that was made clear was that Tyler is (was?) a student at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale. A good spot to be in these days, music-wise: there are, I’ve been finding, quite a bit of great and talented bands and artists who hail from, not just the Chicago area, but downstate, as well; places such as Champaign/Urbana (also a college town). There are some very great bands in that Chicago – Champaign axis which have fallen on my ears and have changed my musical tastes for a long time to come.
As for Soft Peaks, I suppose one would have to say it fits into the “EP” category, since it clocks in at only 20 minutes. Seven songs, that take up 20 minutes. Who knows, though, maybe Tyler is hard at work right now, coming up with the material for a new, full-length album. Well, I will be here waiting for it. -KM.