Surrounded by Justin SullivanRelease date: May 28, 2021
Label: Attack Attack / Ear Music
Fans of Justin Sullivan’s work in New Model Army and his superb debut solo album Navigating by The Stars (2003) will find much to like in his latest solo outing, only his second in 18 years. Certainly the music here is informed and colored by the pandemic, how could it not be? Once again, Justin is delving deep into the sea and elements of nature, applying a poetic slant to his always meaningful lyrics.
The overlay of landscape is one of many things I love about his music. Intelligent introspection for sure, and maybe more personal than outwardly looking. Mostly recorded at home, the album features contributions from other musicians, including Jon Thorne on bass (Lamb) on harp Tom Moth (Florence and the Machine – and brother of NMA bassist Ceri Monger), plus string arrangements from composer friends Tobias Unterberg, Henning Nügel and Shir-Ran Yinon. Current members of New Model Army also made contributions.
One of the first songs I heard from this release was ‘Amundsen’, Sullivan’s treatise on explorer Roald Amundsen. It is a lovely song, largely reminiscent of his work on his first release as well as reminding one of NMA. It brings in all the natural elements as Justin tells a tale from long ago. Preceding this is the album opener, ‘Dirge’, which breaks open the record with ominous humming. Then the acoustic guitar joins the hums and a tiny ray of light pierces through this funereal piece. I like the final words: ‘Everything I need is here’.
‘Coming With Me’ is pensive and uneasy, and it’s another beautiful tune. I found myself singing along on the chorus, and an equal longing has arisen to see Justin perform live. Will he ever come to the US to perform these songs? ‘Clean Horizon’ is so pretty, even while the words scrape away at your emotions. It features some wonderful string work.
‘Stone and Heather’ is catchy and immediate, and could easily be a single. I really enjoy the guitar work. And oh, the lyrics: “If I could see in your heart there would be stone and heather”. So evocative and memorable. You will not find yourself forgetting this song. And what about “Some people have a landscape written in their bones“? This song is gorgeous and is quite possibly the best song here. It is certainly my favorite. ‘28th May’ is another stunner with a vintage story setting, but one whose words could apply to what is happening globally. ‘Akistan’ might be about war, but it’s clearly not that simple. The stark instrumentation with cello is the perfect accompaniment. ‘Unforgiven’ could have been lifted off an NMA record, and I am voting it in as another potential single. Sharp, incisive lyrics and a sonic waterfall that rains down on you.
‘Sao Paolo’ is rather like a rare, delicate flower that might break apart in your hands. Its spectral tones will haunt you! ‘1975’ is forlorn and ghostly, a sepia-toned tale that might be lifted from Justin’s life. ‘Sea Again’ is a delight, infused with a welcome warmth to offset some of the melancholy that lingers around some of the other songs. ‘Clear Skies’ is a mix of dark and light that both delights and saddens as the story unfolds. ‘Daughter of the Sun’ is marvelous, a simple arrangement that works wonderfully well framing Justin’s voice.
The album’s title track closes down the record in fine fashion, and this entire record will resonate with you long after the final notes fade away. A superb piece of work from the multi-talented Justin Sullivan.