Album Review: SUUNS – The Witness

[Joyful Noise; 2021]

Continuing down the path they set out on with 2016’s Hold/Still, Canada’s Suuns have finally, it seems, arrived at a rewarding destination on their latest, The Witness – an immersive electronic abyss. The journey has had many ups and downs, but The Witness recalibrates their talents, where the last full length, Felt back in 2018, seemed to deter expansion.

It finds them working again with the ever-reliable rock producer John Congleton – known for his vast contributions to a wide array of talent from Angel Olsen to Franz Ferdinand. Here, Congleton helps to uncover crevices of Suuns’ noise potential, revealing something of a late-career Wire pastiche and ensuring the nauseous robotic vocals of Ben Shemie are no longer the focal point of the band’s music.

Without a doubt, The Witness is the best sounding Suuns record to date. After Felt, longtime bassist Max Henry departed, making Suuns a trio for the first time since the band’s inception, but, even down a member, they still capture the essence of a much larger-sounding band.

The massive opener “Third Stream” might be one of Suuns’ more astounding experiments. A slow burning seven-minute track that unravels as it progresses, “Third Stream” balances the Suuns aesthetic perfectly, even if it can be a bit directionless at times. Early highlight “Witness Protection” proves that the band can still write hooky marvels without sabotaging themselves, and it’s here that the production really shines for the band. Even the more caustic elements, as heard on the vibey “Timebender”, prove the band hasn’t lost their sense of unpredictability; they’re still pushing out a challenging sound after more than a decade of releasing music.

More often than not, The Witness presents fragmented morsels of sounds, usually through the use of woodwinds and plodding drums. It’s dreamy, and it might even force newcomers to turn away, but if you’re listening to The Witness there’s a good chance you’re already acclimated to this type of approach. When all the electronics and experimentations align, it does so spectacularly, like on the banging “C-Thru”, which elevates the sound the band has been tirelessly hammering for the last half decade.

Some of the lacking aspects of their previous record have carried over, albeit minutely. The most egregious example is the pop-laden “Go to My Head”, which finds the band pulling at classic rock strands but stretching them so far it becomes near unlistenable.

While The Witness is a certain improvement from Felt, it remains a bit mixed. Gone is the delirium felt in a song like “Translate” from Hold/Still, and in its place are more reverb-infused dream sequences that swirl but never feel complete. Suuns are a great band that just get a little too bogged down by their own lofty ambitions. As such, The Witness is a serviceable post-punk album, one that ends up as an interesting listen but with little to pull us back to it.