SUMAC – WMFU

4 out of 5

Label: SIGE

Produced by: Justin Foley and Mario Santana (mastered by)

Being an old man with grandpa ears who hates the world, I don’t get out to a lot of live shows. And as some kind of self-justifying aspect of that, I often rag on live albums for their lack of necessity: if they don’t add anything to what the band does in studio, then what’s point?

And the obvious counter to that is when a live album does add to what the band does in studio.

While this radio session is pretty album accurate – with some additional navel-gazing atmospherics between tracks – the sequencing and forced rawness of the live recording help to address some of the issues I had with the discs from which this pulls – The Deal and What One Becomes. Both of those albums occasionally wandered too much in a self-defeating way, undermining the buildup of their songs, but The Deal was affected by that moreso; here, tracks from The Deal are the bookends, where the wandering makes more sense as an intro and outro to the relatively more pummeling What One Becomes songs. And though I wouldn’t call Matt Dettmer’s or Kurt Ballou’s production work on the studio releases without due intensity, SUMAC nonetheless has something of a clinical, technical sound to their work, which also highlights – unfavorably – the flatness of Turner’s one-note vocals. Here, the live sound is crispy, crackly, and does wholly sell how punishing this stuff would be seeing in an audience. And I just love how punchy the drums sound here, it’s so mean and aggressive feeling, with the untouched noise of the whole experience rendering Aaron’s singing more to an aspect of the noise – just another element – than something you should open up your lyric sheet to decipher.

The wandering is still rather present, here – but again, the sequencing downplays that – and the between song stuff perhaps drags on for a bit too long. However, this does convince me: this might be the ideal way to hear this group, and I bet I’d be sold on that beyond 100% if I saw them committing to this stuff live.