Mojo (Publisher) (p.98) - 4 stars out of 5 -- "All sharp turns, dramatic build-ups and Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro's interwoven voices..."
Audio Mixer: Allen Farmelo.
Recording information: Echo Canyon West; S11th; Vacation Island.
Photographer: Sarah Wilmer.
During the three years that passed between Talk Normal's galvanizing debut Sugarland and Sunshine, Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro developed an approach that wasn't exactly softer than their previous music, but was subtler and more layered. It would have been difficult for them to make an album that was more sonically uncompromising than their debut: Sugarland's mix of fierce guitar experimentation and expressive drumming, topped with alternately deadpan and imploring vocals, was bracing to say the least. While Sunshine adds more melody into this framework, Talk Normal do so subtly and thoughtfully, imbuing it into each part of their playing and singing rather than just trying to graft something more tuneful onto their stark dynamics. On the title track -- which is more like a solar flare than sunbeams -- the duo occasionally sings a harmony melody, but this little change makes a huge contrast to Register's fiery guitars and Ambro's galloping drums. Elsewhere, they brandish prettiness as ably as they wield dissonance: on "Hot Water Burns," those harmonies help the song's soaring chorus pull free of the verses' clipped lists of shoulds and shouldn'ts, and dual vocal melodies add to the song's dazzling intricacy. Ambro and Register further explore the layers and counterpoint that made Sugarland's best songs so transporting on "XO" and "Bad Date," which creates the triple point of free jazz, post-punk, and no wave with its heavy rhythm and far-ranging sax and vocals. Throughout Sunshine, Talk Normal retain the piercing inquisitiveness in their singing and songcraft that recalls Laurie Anderson (author of the band's namesake song), and the eerie album closer, "Hurricane," suggests a duet between her and early Throwing Muses-era Kristin Hersh made in avant-garde/post-punk heaven. While the duo has shaved off some of its rougher edges, Sunshine is hardly smooth, and the greater control the duo displays has made it a more versatile outfit with tighter reins on outbursts like "Baby, Your Heart's Too Big" and a newfound playfulness and jubilance in "Shot This Time"'s scuzzy groove and "Lone General"'s rolling drums and furious guitars. While Sugarland's alien rawness is missed occasionally, Sunshine reveals a Talk Normal that is a little more immediate and a lot more assured. ~ Heather Phares