Tom Serner is a deep diver. HORROR HEAD, his debut album under the Sindy moniker, puts this on display as it exudes all the influences he grew up with and channels them through a personal lens. It’s like a computer algorithm listening to nothing but 90s music like Sonic Youth, My Bloody Valentine, Daniel Johnston, and smattering of Elephant 6 bands, and producing an amalgamated outcome of the input. Put another way, Serner wears his influences clearly on his sleeve.
It suits him too, as HORROR HEAD is a vibrant, technicolour album that jumps from point to point and influence to influence throughout its packed 23 minutes. It’s possible to pick out different kinds of alt-rock inspirations, from the sparkling, shimmering shoegaze of “PHANTOM LIMB”, to the breezy space hiding between the strums of acoustic-led “ISCARIOT”, or the tamed indie punk and distorted drum rumbles of “EDGE GIRL”. Each song seems to have been approached with a particular vision in mind, like Serner was trying to capture a particular aesthetic and sound. Even though the setup sounds simple, the attention to detail is still easy to appreciate.
Instrumental opening track “EXPERIMENTAL JET SET” (which takes its title from the 1994 Sonic Youth album Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star) rides a dreamy, pillowy jangle of flush guitar and insouciant wordless vocals, and it sets a scene that is both calm and full of potential. This kind of tug between a boisterous and quiet sound spreads itself across HORROR HEAD, no doubt thanks to Serner’s vocal delivery. He approaches the microphone with a smirk and a certain offhand peacefulness, and the result is not unlike that of Elliot Smith or Circulatory System’s Will Cullen Hart (a comparison which comes all the more alive on “HAUSU” with its ringing guitar fuzz and sonically detailed drums). That he’s inserting lines right from Buffy the Vampire Slayer (which Serner binged during the writing of the album) adds to the half-smile charm, like he’s winking at the audience with his words.
While all of HORROR HEAD might not be thrilling, it is consistently enjoyable. It’s brevity is a strength – and not just as a whole. Only the airy and summery “BIG SCARE” goes beyond two and half minutes; Serner finds what he wants to say, and doesn’t linger any longer than he needs to. A track like “HORROR HEAD” could easily have been fleshed out more, but its compact size makes it all the more likely to garner repeated plays. When final track “SICKO” crashes to a sudden close it almost feels too soon, like a rollercoaster ride ending just as you catch your breath.
Depending on your listening habits of the 90s (if you were even alive and listening to music, that is) you might find all sorts of aural easter eggs hiding in Sindy’s work. Serner has to be credited for doing his homework thoroughly, as he easily evokes a plentitude of great bands, be it My Bloody Valentine or even early Radiohead (of which there seems to be a lyrical nod to on “ISCARIOT”), and he still manages to cast himself through it all. Even if you don’t come out the end of it feeling like you know him any better than you did before, you certainly know what music Serner’s into; you may as well call HORROR HEAD a love letter to the music he grew up with, as that’s very much what listening to it feels like.