Sundowner - We Chase The Waves


Set 23 2010, 4h13

One of the last things I expected to do this summer was order a CD through the mail from Asian Man Records. But sometimes you gotta relive the past a little bit, and sometimes you gotta support your old favorites when they're tinkering more with their acoustic guitar and coming to your town less with their electrics. I was pleased to see Sundowner staying present for round two with the sophomore disc, We Chase the Waves.

Chris McCaughan teams up with old pal Neil Hennessy to deliver another batch of his signature Midwestern laments. There's a bit of nostalgic naturalism to the work, with a tiger and a flower gracing the outside of the liner booklet, and drawings of sea life capering through its insides. McCaughan sings of whales and sharks, crows and vultures, the "valleys in the deep, to the plant-life and the fish and the shining coral reef". This is a nice fit with the jungle of the city, which his songs are no strangers of. Indeed, Jewel of the Midwest seems to summon both spheres, claiming the singer is a ship that was wrecked in the titular geographical space.

Most of the songs are similarly structured with a first-person pronoun floating from a picked melody to a strummed chorus and back again, belaboring the truths of hours gone by and empty days yet to come. Indeed, by the later third of the album this style can begin to blend a bit. A couple of the tunes could be parts one and two of each other, and what's lacking here that was notable on Four One Five Two was the single heartstopper a la Midsummer Classic, not to mention a couple reworked Lawrence Arms jams.

But there is some meat sitting right in the middle of the Waves, with the perky pairing of As the Crow Flies and Baseball's Sad Lexicon. The former is that peculiar type of track that should seem a bit trite because it has the simplest lyrics and an almost familiar progression, but as we know you don't need polysyllables to explain a feeling, and there is an urge behind the confession, "I've got a bunch of notes I scribbled down/ I think I can make a song somehow." The following track is a verbatim poem set to song about three men who are apparently the most feared double-play makers in baseball. The subject matter seems tailor-made for a Sundowner song: the Cubbies are smoking the Giants and are the cause of "the saddest of possible words." A brisk little ditty that's good to have stuck in your head as we head into playoff season, and a serious reminder that the more works we have in the public domain and our collective subconscious, the better.

I'll never be able to entirely separate Sundowner from The Lawrence Arms in my eardrums, which grants these songs an immediate nostalgia that others in isolation would have to work harder to earn. It's easy for me to visualize the winter streets that have been McCaughan's backdrop throughout his musical career. He's not afraid to admit that "the story never changes" but despite the mutinies and funerals, he's making his attempt to "dance to the here and the now". I'm not one to whine about the good ol' days of artists in their prime, which usually translates to an artist being in the listener's prime, so I'll gladly spin this collection and consider it another chapter in whatever this Chicagoan's story might turn out to be.


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