EP Review of The Susan Constant: Wherever It Is You Are Now
Nineties-influenced college rock. That’s the simplest description of The Susan Constant‘s musical style. Harmonies, melodies, and songwriting drove this style to the top of the charts, while bands sporting this hooky sound dominated college towns like Athens, Charlottesville, and East Lansing. The best of this brand of alt-rock – this catchy, poppy, energetic subgenre – took root at the end of the eighties and provided the most melodic rock music of the following decade. From R.E.M. to The Smithereens and The Verve Pipe, from Semisonic to Spacehog and The Wallflowers, and even to a certain extent Hootie and the Blowfish, this was heartfelt college rock club music with a peppiness that suggested its message wasn’t too deep, even though often it was. The most widely-heard current music that has some of its ancestry in this bloodline comes from bands like Maroon 5 and Train.
The Susan Constant, however, is a bit of a throwback. I’ve been following this band for a couple years now. Of course, all those comparisons are just to give you an idea what to expect. What makes me a fan of The Susan Constant is that, while this region of the alt-rock map is decidedly less crowded now than it was 20 years ago, I believe this band sound would have an uniquely identifiable even during the sub-genre’s heyday; not surprising, I suppose, since they’ve had more recent music from which to draw inspiration, as well. In any case, “I’m Not the One” from The Susan Constant’s June 2015 release Keepers EP is still a regular on my personal smartphone playlist.
So I’m glad to finally get a chance to review a Susan Constant recording, its recently-released five-song EP entitled Wherever It Is You Are Now. And yes, to no one’s surprise, there are some catchy songs in this short collection. “The Set Up” kicks things off with an alt-rock musical crash, leading into quirky-guy vocals for a tune that’d be well-placed on a Barenaked Ladies album. It’s followed by “I’ve Got Friends,” whose tempo is similar to Talking Heads’ “And She Was” but vocally more like R.E.M.’s “Stand.”
“Leave Me Behind” sports an almost electronically-staticy overriding sound, combining well with hooky stops and starts that could have led to an uncomfortable sparseness in spots; instead, this is a full-sounding, energetically not-as-happy-as-it-seems tune that hints at what Jimmy Eat World might perform if it ever ventured this far into The Susan Constant’s musical neighborhood.
It’s followed by track number four, my new favorite Susan Constant song, “Science.” Paul Sennott hits that insistent college alt-rock vocal sweet spot on this one – all the energy of a full rasp while actually employing just a hint of it. Combined with a persistent, catchy rhythm and a musical soup that sounds a bit like a bumblebee in one spot and ends abruptly, it’s a song you’ll remember and want to request on the radio, but you’ll have no idea what the song title is.
The disc ends all-too-soon with “The Hour Hand,” a smoothly rolling rocker that builds to emotional alt-rock screams before succumbing to the inevitable, softens, and provides Wherever It Is You Are Now with a comfortable send-off. And yes, coming more than a year after The Susan Constant’s last release, this EP is a bit like being served your favorite appetizer but leaving the table hungry because you had saved your appetite for a full dinner. It’s not enough, but it’s really good.
The EP release party was November 12th at The Middle East in Cambridge. I couldn’t get to that show, and the only show so far this year was a January 14th Pawtucket, RI gig at News Cafe. I don’t see any others scheduled yet, but I will be watching the band’s website and its Facebook page for them.