Sun’s Signature are Elizabeth Fraser and Damon Reece, and together they create serene, wistful and mesmeric music. Fraser is obviously most well-known for her otherworldly vocal talents in Cocteau Twins, while Reece has been a member of Spiritualized, Echo and the Bunnymen and Massive Attack at various points. They are also a couple, though this fact has no real bearing on the resultant music – other than the majesty and downright beautiful sounds they create suggests they are blissfully in tune with one another.
All of the tracks on this eponymous EP refer to nature to some degree, and this music has been nurtured and cultivated over years until the duo felt all of the parts had ripened – never let it be said that Fraser rushes things. ANOHNI’s Meltdown Festival in 2012 saw the live debut of the band and all of the songs they played then, albeit in embryonic form, appear here in recorded form. Those seeking a Cocteau Twins style of musical immersion will be disappointed as the tracks here are more cerebral than sensual, complicated musical motifs, textures and melodies replacing her former band’s glacial feel.
“Underwater” mingles jewellery box style melodies, swirling noises, and lyrics such as “The opening of a window onto rapture / Find the world shining in me”. These elements combine to offer a life affirming yet melancholic air. All of the tracks here work best when you try to push Fraser’s voice to the back of your focus – that’s not to say that her vocal performances aren’t exceptional (and also why most people are listening in the first place), yet with a voice as seminal as hers it’s sometimes difficult to centre your attention on the instrumentation.
Failure to do so does it a disservice. There is a subtlety to the playing that’s gorgeously understated, and a complexity to some of the sounds that highlight the hooks going on beneath Fraser’s vocal gymnastics. The hesitant bass line on “Golden Hair” has an air of Spacemen 3 about it, while the orchestration and arrangement on “Bluedusk” brings to mind Angela Morley’s seminal work with Scott Walker in the late 60s. There’s a lot going on here that gets unpicked and noticed the more you repeat the listening experience.
“Apples” sees Fraser at her ethereal best, with vocal lines interweaving with barely discernible counter-melodies that create a ghostly atmosphere. The words aren’t all that easy to make out, but this is a performer who made perfect sense from senseless murmurings in her former band, and you get the feeling that she could sing a recipe for toast in Esperanto and make it utterly alluring. The vocal trills and double-layered vocal lines sound like chamber music, while an acoustic guitar goes about its merry business in the background. The music is fairly bog standard indie meets neo-classical affair, but with Fraser’s voice ebbing this way and flowing that it’s a song that elevates itself above the mundane that it acknowledges in its aural palette. While the music binds things, the vocals soar far above, the two components of the track seemingly perfectly suited yet still disparate. You can make out snippets of vocals that harken back to Cocteau Twins’ style and themes as Fraser half-sings and half-whispers about cherry trees and blossom, yet her voice is now more comfortable in the higher vocal register which only adds to the spectral quality of her performance.
“Make Lovely the Day” has a childlike quality to it. Fraser’s vocal is playful and innocent sounding, while the sprightly acoustic guitar underpins a sense of simple joy and fun. There’s an echo of Vashti Bunyan on this track and this is really the only time on the record that you hear an echo of another musician present, which is quite a feat in itself. It’s a lovely way to finish the EP, as Fraser sings you a lullaby of positivity that soothes, even though the one complaint is that the song’s run time of two and a half minutes isn’t long enough.
Sun’s Signature is a wonderful record whose core themes of hope, splendour and faith in nature are something we could all do with right about now.