Although instrumental outfit SUSS hails from the Big Apple, you’d never guess that based on the barren, windswept sounds that drift throughout the eight songs on Promise. Rather, you’d assume that the band — which features members of Rubber Rodeo, The Raybeats, and Band Aparrt (to name a few) — hailed from somewhere deep in the Arizona desert.
The second mistake you could make about SUSS and Promise would be to describe these songs as “Morricone-esque.” Invoking the acclaimed Italian composer, best known for his soundtracks for The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and other “spaghetti westerns,” is often music critic shorthand for music that sounds desert-y. But while Promise certainly contains Morricone-isms, and is quite cinematic à la fellow desert-bound artists like Scenic and Lanterna, don’t listen to the album expecting to see gunfights on the dusty streets of dilapidated frontier towns leap to your imagination.
Instead, Promise more accurately conjures up the the journeys between said frontier towns, i.e., meandering, directionless journeys that take you through wide-open spaces and blasted vistas bleached by the ever-present sun. Ragged electric guitar notes occasionally cut through the haze and swarm around the listener (e.g., the ominous and harrowing “No Man’s Land”), but Promise’s sounds are primarily contemplative and even wistful at times — the perfect soundtrack for observing and considering the passing landscape whilst traveling at the speed of an ambling horse.
SUSS rely heavily on the sort of instrumentation that you’d expect for such “desert” music (e.g., ebowed and reverbed guitars, violin, harmonica, and of course, lots and lots of pedal steel). But they also use swirling synthesizers and other electronics to enhance the mood, which imbues the music with a subtly psychedelic edge. It’s not overt by any means, but it does tickle the ears the way that heatstroke might tickle the brain, playing with your perception of the songs and your surroundings. (Indeed, SUSS call their music “pastoral psychedelicism,” which is plenty accurate.)
Not surprisingly, the four members of SUSS wrote, recorded, and produced Promise during the pandemic quarantine. And though their stated goal was “to come to grips with concepts such as ‘promise’ and ‘hope’ and what they could still mean in this day and age,” my reaction to Promise has been less heady and philosophical. Rather, I see it more as “escapist” music, which I don’t mean as any sort of slight.
Now that so many of us are working and schooling from home, unable to socialize with friends and loved ones as much as we’d like, we all know the feeling of being trapped, cooped up, and unable to go anywhere. Which is where an album like Promise, its songs full of wide-open spaces untainted by pandemic, can serve as a welcome release and respite. Pull it up on your phone, put in your earbuds, go for a walk in your neighborhood, and just see if you don’t find yourself feeling a little freer than you did before.