Following the dissolution of The Graduate, thousands of fans (including myself) mourned the loss of the Midwestern indie rock group. After their unfortunate breakup, band members Tim Moore, Max Sauer and Matt Kennedy joined forces with vocalist Chris Rhein to keep their dream alive with The Sun and the Sea. After two strong EP’s, the band’s debut album, American Empire, is a welcome addition to their catalog, showing new found growth and evolution.
The Sun and the Sea plays a finely tuned brand of indie rock, that is neither too indie nor too rock. It is sure to draw fans of The Dangerous Summer and Local Natives alike, but despite their close connections, it is unfair to compare The Sun and the Sea with its parent bard, The Graduate. Fans of The Graduate will find solace in the ethereal feel of American Empire, but will be quick to notice the increasingly ambient and electronic textures that set it apart, driven by strong musicianship and variety, rather than extremely powerful lyrics. Their instrumental nuances invoke a feeling of liberation and power, as if you are on top of a mountain on a rainy day.
The album’s 12 tracks dabble in ambient, electronic, and indie rock stylings, with horns and instrumental songs are scattered throughout, creating a sonic soundscape that captivates and excites. Nothing will feel out of the ordinary for old fans, but this record helps the group show who they are to a wider array of new listeners. Moments of intense synthesizer play are complemented by softer electronic interpolations and rock instrumentation, as other tracks are empowered by both climatic percussion and light ambiance alike.
The album’s third song, “There’s Nothing We Can Do”, combines indie rock and electronic influences together to create a standout track. The ambient sounds that lead off the track are soon complemented with a light acoustic guitar and lush vocals, before kicking into a danceable and powerful synth line that brings the song full circle. “Drive Me Home” follows, channels The Graduate with its intense percussion, fluttering guitars, and electronic ambiance, all on top of Rhein’s cries for guidance, which come together to show the band’s true colors.
As a whole, the record is a cohesive piece, with its fair share of standout tracks and memorable moments. While it feels somewhat top heavy, the band’s musical style is indeed unique, and this album only digs so deep into the quartet’s songwriting power. It is clear the band worked to refine its style rather than make any sort of groundbreaking changes to it. This is perfectly okay, as the end product is in no way disappointing.