Northern Sky, 2022

SUSS’ latest ambient country record is well played, atmospheric and conjures images reflective of its themes.

Cover art for SUSS by SUSSSUSS is a band from New York whose mission is ambient country, described as the intersection of the likes of Brian Eno, Daniel Lanois and Ry Cooder (the soundtrack element – ‘Paris, Texas’ is cited). As might be expected, there is a whiff of 1980’s Robbie Robertson albums but also elements redolent of Calexico’s and Lambchop’s tour CDs and – unsurprisingly – the likes of William Tyler. SUSS’ previous record, ‘Promise’, was critically acclaimed and hit a number of “Best Of” lists in 2020.  The new self-titled album comprises a series of four EPs each exploring a different theme

SUSS started on out this journey as a four-piece (Bob Holmes, Pat Irwin, Gary Leib and Jonathan Gregg) who recorded the first EP, ‘Night Suite’, before Leib’s unexpected death following which the record was released posthumously.  It is described as “a dark, late-night trip through the heart of loss set against the backdrop of Americana soundscapes”; the five titles are place names along the stretch of Route 66 that runs from Albuquerque to the Promised Land.

It was following the loss of Leib that the surviving members decided to continue the journey and create three further EPs which would the form this double album.  The three – ‘Heat Haze’, ‘Winter Was Hard’ and ‘Across The Horizon’ each take a theme and develop musical atmospherics around it.  The first two sound like you’d expect from the titles; the third definitely echoes the ‘Paris Texas’ sound.

‘Uncut’ recently (May 2021 issue) put out a CD focused on ‘Ambient Americana’ on which ‘Drift’ from ‘Promise’ was the lead off track and they extended the field to Mary Lattimore and Michael Chapman in a way which made the distinction between “ambient” and “instrumental” less than clear. Without the guide rail of a lyric, it’s left to the listener to get the artist’s message based on their own imagination and experience.  Here what we have are the titles and however much of the press release makes it into the sleeve notes which is a bit of a shame as, especially internationally, there’s a risk that a chunk of the art is lost in transmission.

Live, quite a few ambient artists present an AV experience.  Anyone fortunate enough to have attended the ‘Jim Jarmusch Revisited’ show at the Barbican five years ago will recall its impact.

SUSS weighs in at 85 minutes – even if it comprises four discrete works – and, as such, requires a lot of time and space to appreciate it fully.  If you have both and this is your thing then it is likely to be an enjoyable experience: well-played, atmospheric and conjuring images reflective of the piece titles.


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