A shift in direction and a hint of experimentation from the talented Mr Combs.
Andrew Combs latest album ‘Sundays’ comes from a dark place. A mental breakdown in December 2020 amid a global pandemic had the artist looking towards transcendental meditation as a way of getting his life back on track. The album title comes from Combs’s routine of heading into the studio on Sundays to capture the results of his weekly thought processes in song.
The result is an album that is noticeably bleaker in tone and sound than his previous work. For the most part the strings and pedal steel and acoustic guitar are replaced with thumb-strummed electric guitar, brooding woodwinds and strident drum track. Combine this with Combs’s vocals sung in a noticeably higher key then many of the songs have an almost experimental feel to them at times.
Fans of earlier work seeking out the Combs of ‘All These Dreams’ and ‘Canyons of My Mind’ will find comfort in the rhythm of ‘Anna Please,’ a song inspired by an Ingmar Bergman film, a man himself familiar with the meditations and struggles of the psyche. That tempo is maintained with ‘Still Water’ which explores the perspective gained from deep self-reflection and meditation. ‘Adeline,’ a reflection on the naivety of youth, completes a trio of songs that, in terms of style and tempo wouldn’t have been out of place on those earlier incarnations.
Those tracks aside, the bulk of the album finds a brooding Combs, sparse arrangements conjoined with vocals that offer up a glimpse of the pain and introspection that clearly drove this process. Recorded in mono, Combs’s intention was to keep things simple, aiming for a stripped-down approach to match the minimalist, meditative songs he was writing. Returning to the Bergman influence, Combs tone is a black and white short film. Monochrome in more ways than one.
The style of the album may divide Combs fans, either celebrating a bold change of direction or bemoaning a turn towards a darker, more brooding sound at odds with what has gone before. On his recent UK tour of intimate venues he played the whole album start to finish, as though performing these tracks was the final act of a process that started in those bleak December days almost two years ago. It will be interesting to see whether this album represents a permanent shift in musical tone or simply a cathartic release towards a brighter future.