Music News & Reviews

Sacramento rock band explores weighty issues of loss, death and innocence

The Sun Valley Gun Club performs at Red Museum on June 8.
The Sun Valley Gun Club performs at Red Museum on June 8.

In the opening line of "She’s Gone," a new song by the Sacramento four-piece indie rock band Sun Valley Gun Club, singer Evan Bailey gently sings about a young girl skipping stones at a river. ("With her stockings full of stones/she’s gone to be alone.")

There’s a nostalgic quality to the music, which opens with just vocals and fuzz guitar, and quickly builds up to a '90s inspired alternative noise-pop song, punctuated with a melancholy vocal line and mid-tempo drums beat.

The imagery of the lyrics is so vivid, you can almost see this nameless, carefree girl enjoying her day. Partway through the song, it shifts from being about this specific moment of time to later in the future with a more abstract view of the situation. ("In time these pages will be filled/move this wreckage forward.")

The juxtaposition between these two parts is inexplicably emotional. Is it sad? Is it happy?

According to Bailey, it's all of that. This song, which is off of the band's third record "The Water, The Stars," to be released June 8, digs deep into themes of loss, death, innocence and even explores the concept of time itself, and it does so with emotionally impactful down-tempo indie-rock songs.

At the heart of this record, the lyrics are about a specific person that the band’s lyricist John Allen lost.

"I think every song represents a certain stage maybe of his relationship with her," Bailey says.

The record is a major step forward for the group, which started only six years ago. Initially, the group was a solo project of Bailey's. As he started to get band members together, they put together the first record, "Into The Valley Sun," flushing out the songs he'd written before the others joined.

The songs are strictly post-punk with intricate guitar parts that toggle between heavy riffs and arpeggios, high-energy drums, and low-key vocal hooks. Each song has a lot of punch.

By the group's sophomore record, 2016's self-titled record, Sun Valley had innately changed form into a fully functioning band that put songs together as a group. Bailey also started working with Allen to write lyrics, as he often struggled to write lyrics himself.

That record was a much more complex release for the group, with more breakdowns and section/tempo changes. The songs still have a lot of post-punk riffs, but they also include keyboards and other overdubbed instruments, providing more layers and counter melodies in the seemingly straight-forward indie-rock songs.

The band's process was similar on "The Water, The Stars," but this time Allen provided Bailey with all the words upfront. In some cases, he wrote entire pages worth of prose, which Bailey went through, picking and choosing lines that were meaningful to him.

As Bailey read through Allen's words, he suspected that they were about the loss of a close friend and that he was still processing the trauma. Allen confirmed it was.

Without knowing too many details of each individual line and what they meant to Allen, Bailey kept the theme and its importance to Allen in mind as he assembled the songs for this new record.

"I was trying to think about what I would have felt like if I was John. I have a strong relationship with John and I think that's where I was coming from with it," Bailey says. "Some of it may be wildly inaccurate."

The songs overall are softer, yet somehow grittier than previous ones. Bailey's voice has a whispered rasp that highlights the bittersweet emotions dripping from each line. The production and arrangement is also unique in how sparse the guitars are. There's barely a riff on this record, which left room for more vocal harmonies, more prominent keyboard parts, and even some horns.

And for the most part, the tempos are slower, almost like ballads. Even if the record is ultimately inspired by Allen's tragedy, "The Water, The Stars" is very personal for Bailey as he simultaneously explores the concept of time, something he spends a lot of time thinking about.

"I think it has to do with dying," Bailey explains. "When I was a child and I was playing Little League, I wasn't thinking about dying. But when I think of myself as a child now I think about dying because I think the same distance from me and that child is the same distance from me and being dead."

What makes the record so powerful is precisely these multiple layers of meaning on the album: Allen's expression filtered through Bailey's expression, brought to life by the rest of the Sun Valley Gun Club's arrangement, and the ways it all comes together. Yet you can still see how it all stems from this pain that Allen is working through.

"He's kind of postmodern in a way that he feels that if you take it and repurpose it, that's fine with him," Bailey says of Allen. "He's told me that it's meaningful to him, and I think that's important.”

If You Go Box

Where: Red Museum, 212 15th Street.

When: Friday, June 8, 8:00 p.m.

Cost: $8

Info: (916) 750-4733, www.facebook.com/theredmuseum

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