The word “transcendental” has often been adopted, without fully grasping its meaning, by those feeling self-indulgent or otherwise special. With their nonchalant cosmicism and a name like A Million Billion Dying Suns, this San Francisco band can appear at first glance to flirt dangerously with the stereotypical musician of the Bay Area scene (summed up by Frank Zappa as a “Flower Punk”). But all things considered, transcendental seems to be the best term to describe their sound, whose bewildering ambivalence on their eponymous debut is infectious and altogether grounded in the essentials of a good rock record.
Fewer bands will be found with a wilder music formula. The album rests on a fuzzy, semi-ethereal wall of sound styled after Sonic Youth and early grunge, which finds itself combined with brighter, upbeat guitar work and a neo-psychedelic tone that is at times lo-fi, at times progressive.
Songs like “The Garden,” “Promised Land” and “So High,” among others, offer an edgy dynamic but with a typical neo-psychedelic groove (see Beck, Tame Impala, etc.), while other pieces in between the tracklist stand out with stark differences, such as the mellowed out “Messenger,” the Pink Floyd-infused “Afterall,” and the delirious “Woke Up Floating,” a limber but powerful track that combines almost all of the elements present on the record in blistering delight.
A Million Billion Suns Dying is a slap to the face to the skepticism of rock purists and hippie haters—as valid as their complaints may be. The lovechild of flower power and grunge with a maturity that escaped both its parents and vision all of its own, this record is surprising and at times a bit unsettling, but makes for a solid listen from start to finish.
In A Word: Bewitching