Sun's Signature by Sun's SignatureRelease date: June 17, 2022
Label: Partisan Records
It’s a rarity to find new music featuring the beautiful voice of Elizabeth Fraser. So when her collaboration with life and musical partner, percussionist Damon Reece, under the name Sun’s Signature was announced, I was all ears. As vocalist in the sublime Cocteau Twins, as well as her memorable contribution to Massive Attack’s Mezzanine album, Elizabeth has kept largely away from significant recorded output. Though unbeknown to me, there have been some intermittent collaborations over the years. Here’s an extended play, also entitled Sun’s Signature, to placate my hunger for some new sounds from one of the world’s finest singers.
As for Damon, his musical heritage involves drumming with Massive Attack, Spiritualized, Echo and the Bunnymen and working with Baxter Dury, Goldfrapp, The Flies and Nigel Kennedy. He clearly has a talent for sound as he has taken charge of engineering duties for most of this EP. Damon admits that in order to create this body of work “We had to go down many, many different avenues to find what we were looking for”. An early performance from the pair, paving the way for the creation of Sun’s Signature, was at the Meltdown Festival as far back as 2012. Fellow Spiritualized band member, keyboardist Thighpaulsandra, assisted in helping Elizabeth to be “shitting kittens at the prospect of making an audience sit through ten songs they had never heard before”. Some of those songs have now found their way onto this EP, after that performance encouraged the pair to expand on their embryonic forms.
In creating this incredible music, Elizabeth was cautious not to be influenced by other artists, “…I’m concerned that they may exercise undue influence over me”, and it took a lot of discipline to ensure the originality of the music. To say they succeeded in this strategy would be quite the understatement. As I explore further the actual songs themselves, forgive my ignorance in being able to decipher which of the extravagant range of instruments utilised (vibraphone, celeste, cimbalom, dulcimer, bass clarinets, sustainer guitars, synthesisers) are making the various sounds. It’s also vital to point out that Elizabeth’s voice now exists largely in a higher register, the deeper snarl she could descend to, of yesteryear, now confined to history.
Completing the line-up of stellar musicians for the Sun’s Signature project, you will find Steve Hackett (guitar), Sean Cook (bass), Martin Shellard (guitar) and Alex Lee (guitar). Mixing duties were completed by award winning soundtrack producer Bob Locke and Thighpaulsandra and just for good measure, the alliance with Massive Attack is furthered as Robert Del Naja provides the artwork.
So to the music after all that build-up. The intro to opening track ‘Underwater’ is like some warped fusion of Tim Burton and Walt Disney. Taking a while to grind into full swing, once the drums and poppy bass drop, Elizabeth rolls back the years with effortless ease. I should have realised the task of trying to convey what Elizabeth Fraser’s vocals are like with words, is something that this mere mortal would struggle with. As she weaves miraculously around her own voice multi-tracked, it’s truly a beautiful sound. The multitude of brilliant musicians do a tremendous job of laying out a blissful territory for Elizabeth to explore and the whole thing sounds marvellously, well, fluid, which is quite apt.
‘Golden Air’ makes you feel like you are skipping through an enchanted forest where fairies and mythical creatures go about their daily magical chores. I can’t think of anyone else capable of making this kind of music and certainly Elizabeth Fraser stands alone with her beguiling and utterly unique tones. She still sings gloriously and still leaves the listener with absolutely no idea what she’s singing. When the track erupts into full flight it recalls prime Cocteau Twins as guitars swirl and the bass rolls and glides with pristine production.
Elizabeth’s voice is so encapsulating and still has the same incredible ability to swoop and soar, it’s a shame we don’t get to hear it more often. So that’s what makes this outing such a treasure, ‘Bluedusk’ is bursting with twinkles and spectacular instrumentation to create an otherworldly soundscape for Elizabeth to shimmer through. The song is pure grace and I’m sure to hear this in a live setting would be just transcendent, though that’s not likely to be happening given the artist’s desire to maintain a low profile.
At this stage I’m running out of superlatives to describe the music, the spellbinding ‘Apples’ is lavish and luxurious with a host of sweet voices, flickering twinkles and delicate guitars. Having said that, I find myself incapable of really enjoying this, unless I am really in the mood for it. It’s bizarrely as extreme as some of the noisier music I reach for at times because it is so sparse and lightweight. Closing song ‘Make Lovely The Day’ combines only acoustic guitar with Elizabeth’s pure voice, though the extravagant flourishes that feature on the other tracks leave this song sound a little empty and naked.
Initially drawn to listen to this EP with the obvious draw of Elizabeth Frazer and the inclusion of ex members of long-time favourites Spiritualized, I had no idea what it would sound like. The stronger swing here definitely is more in favour of latter-day Cocteau Twins, as opposed to the super charged drone rock of Spiritualized. Having said that, the musical dexterity on offer is clearly indebted to another perfectionist, Jason Pearce, as these musicians will be more than familiar with layering up sounds to impossible levels of magical creativity. The overall sound of Sun’s Signature is truly unique and unlike anything else I have ever heard. It’s hard to put into words the sheer brilliance of where this music takes you. A long time in the making, Sun’s Signature is a glorious and magical collection of songs bursting with mesmerising detail and enchanting sounds.