j.e. sunde – shapes that kiss the lips of god

IMG_0059when the daredevil christopher wright released their excellent full-length the nature of things in 2012, it certainly didn’t feel like a hiatus was imminent.  when said hiatus occurred, however, founding member jonathan sunde was suddenly presented with an opportunity to flesh out songs he had accumulated over the years, songs that couldn’t quite find a place within daredevil’s repertoire.  after careful arranging and meticulous attention to detail, that collection of music has taken the form of shapes that kiss the lips of god, an admirable foray into the singer-songrwiter realm.

the singular, warbling timbre of sunde’s voice, so common and often definitive of his work in the daredevil christopher wright, is still present on shapes, its familiarity guiding listeners through his personal musical explorations.  on lead single “easy kid,” sunde traverses through layers of acoustic guitar and piano, each instrument’s melodic line partially informing his vocal contour.  as the drums kick in and a flute line prefaces the guitar solo that dominates the middle section of “easy kid,” it becomes clear that formula has been thrown out the door in favor of experimentation.

although his current geographical location is listed as minneapolis, sunde’s record still has a distinct wisconsin taste.  aside from sounding right at home in eau claire’s rich indie-folk tradition, shapes that kiss the lips of god was recorded at honeytone studios, across highway ten on the other side of the state in neenah, and features shane leonard (see: kalispell, field report) on drums and related percussion.  the lyrics on “dog days of summer” even drip of dairyland nostalgia, with the line “that sweet wisconsin night” repeated and strengthened with harmony until it becomes an early focal point of the song that leaves a lasting impression.

sunde is consistent in his lyrical quality throughout shapes, each song coming off as even stronger than its predecessor.  the album’s title is plucked from a lyric in “hickory point in the fall,” and although it’s described as an allegory for migrating birds, the line isn’t the sole biblical reference found on the record.  “a blinding flash of light” bluntly begins with a lamentation for jesus, and its chorus borrows the salient lines of “silent night.”  yet the song is decidedly introspective and sunde is lyrically on par with the likes of pedro the lion and little kid, examining personal shortcomings with religion as a reference point, rather than the cornerstone of the content.

ten tracks allows sunde ample time to flesh out his various ideas without becoming stagnant.  while operating on a rather small slice of the horizontal musical spectrum, sunde does wonders with the vertical headroom allotted on the theoretical axis, pulling from various palates and timbres to create an amalgamation of sound that is always inviting, never abrasive.  between the wandering bass lines of “dream baby,” the subtle but critical vocal harmonies and the warm, slow vibrato peppering organ and guitar tones throughout, shapes that kiss the lips of god is a wonderful soundtrack for hazy midwestern summer evenings.

8.1/10

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