SUSS- ‘High Line’
‘High Line’ is barely there at times. This is a record of distant guitars, soft synthesisers, sparse percussion, and no vocals. The loudest sound over its twelve tracks and 40 minutes is probably a few strong plucks of baritone guitar. That doesn’t make it a meek or thinly drawn piece though. No, this is music dug out of the ground, made of ancient rock perhaps. Tree bark, bone chalk, and ghosts. It’s pure and elemental stuff.
As such, the people behind it might be a little surprising. SUSS is made up of a touring keyboard player for the B-52s, former members of second-tier New Wave bands, and the head of a successful digital design agency. They describe their work as “ambient country”. And that’s not necessarily a combination that inspires great confidence. But this isn’t simply a case of exceeding some low expectations.
While the band’s 2018 debut, ‘Ghost Box’, gained welcome traction- some polite reviews, a few million plays on Spotify- it also felt a little saccharine and had a cowboy on the front cover. This is something else. If that first SUSS album was the aural equivalent of a long, steady journey down a long straight road, then ‘High Line’ is the same thing, only on the moon.
Don’t worry about the country thing. There is some ghostly pedal steel here and there, and suggestive track titles like ‘Salt Flats’ and ‘Mojave’, but this is music made by industry lifers from New York, not true men of the desert. They aren’t faking anything but have successfully evoked the American Southwest while lacing ‘High Line’ with solemn weight, static electricity, and what’s-around-the-corner darkness. This is country music like No Country For Old Men is a Western. The hues seem right from a distance and a few of the tropes are present but get up close and it’s hardly recognisable. The way everything is laid out is unique, both disorienting and demanding attention.
‘Wetlands’ is cinematic but conjures up images of dead birds and dark stars, not cactus and heat haze, ‘Road Trip Part 4’ is perhaps the last thing you’d want to listen to on an extensive drive (but you will yearn for a version longer than the three minutes on offer), and if ‘Mojave’ starts off sounding a little too much like the background music for a State Park tourism video, ‘Ursa Major’ unfurls like 400-year-old post-rock. But really these songs feel genreless, timeless even, more like twisted vines than new tunes.
As such, they might not work at all for fans of country. Instead ‘High Line’ is more likely to connect with those who have Brian Eno, Boards of Canada, Harold Budd, or early Hammock records in their collection. It should encourage deep, repeated listening and is made of enough layers for new secrets to be unearthed each time.
‘High Line’ is superb then. It’s a whisper on the wind at times, sure, but it’s mesmerizing, melancholy, ominous, eerie, eye-opening, heart-breaking and more. I’m not sure there are many other records quite like it.