Sour Cherry Bell is Melissa Guion’s second release on Kranky, and continues on from 2016’s Precious Systems. In the intervening years, a darker sound has infiltrated her music. Her vocals are sometimes swamped by an acidic distortion, and drums seem to lean into an industrial sound, not only populating her tracks with a vital rhythmic stability, but also seeming to pollute them with their hard-hitting, close-to-the-curb attitude. A gothic atmosphere causes fog to gather around her hazy harmonies, and her reverb-heavy vocals fit in with the murky electronics, almost camouflaged among the earthy bass and the driving drums, which gives the music the mechanics of shoegaze.
Speaking about Sour Cherry Bell and her specific tools, Melissa says, ‘I was curious to see how far I could go with them, even if that meant reaching the ends of their capacity to do what I wanted. But I never exhausted them and they never exhausted me’. There’s no exhaustion on the record, either. In fact, the music feels alive, thumping, pumping, kicking like a baby in the womb. On some tracks, such as ‘Body Optics’, the drums are submersed, remaining muted but somehow feeling all the heavier for their watery mass, like drenched clothes hanging from a skeletal frame, throbbing against the speaker. Her dark vocal enters, shining a pale light on the surrounding woodland, where the knotted array of textures slink around like vines in the undergrowth.
Brighter, fast-paced melodies bedazzle the listener with repetitive, trance-like patterns a computerized euphoria, but her voice lends a vital human presence to an otherwise digital realm, not running through a pristine, glossy screen or a state-of-the-art computer, but rather caught in a state of permanent decline, a world on the brink of ruination and decrepitude. ‘Quiet Time’ does this perfectly, hammering home a series of industrial textures while taking the music directly through the nocturnal city. ‘Simulus’ is the standout track on the album, with its glowing synths aiming a trajectory towards the heart of ambient-pop, being reminiscent of Belong’s Common Era with its blurred chord progressions. Sour Cherry Bell is wedded to the night, and its propulsive music never sleeps.