Sunjacket Show Off Their Craft on ‘Mantra’

With seemingly endless possibilities in music technology today, production is becoming increasingly prevalent as a factor that can set music apart. We live in an interesting time when artists see the immense capabilities of new production technologies, but also the pitfalls of its overuse. Nowadays, it’s more about balance and taste than extravagance. The Chicago band Sunjacket has shown to have a deft feel for production on their recent album Mantra. While the compositions on the LP are engaging and the performances are adequate, the production is by far the most noteworthy aspect of the music, and more specifically the way they make overtly synthetic instruments work in tandem with acoustic elements to form a seemingly organic sound palette. The inspired production combined with the group’s diverse songwriting techniques, makes Mantra an exciting offering.

In what should be considered an unquestioned compliment in the modern music landscape, Sunjacket prove on Mantra to occupy a unique stylistic space, not confined to any one genre. The first song “Grandstanders,” for example, begins with a bed of ominous synth pads before the entrance of some forceful drums from Garret Bodette. Carl Hauck and Bryan Kveton work together on vocals, creating a smooth, relaxed delivery that contrasts with the track’s aggressive production. At no point on “Grandstanders” does the listener know what to expect, underlining a pattern that continues on the remainder of the album.

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Photo by Matthew Meschede

One should not assume from this assessment of Mantra that the music is entirely irreverent and esoteric. Yes, it is original and imaginative, but it also contains more accessible elements. There are plenty of punchy beats, ethereal synth pads, and the silky vocals to engage listeners. On “Dissolve It,” for example, the band offers a standout melody in the chorus that will likely stay in audience’s ears long after listening. While the verses are sparse and somewhat enigmatic, everything seems to fall into place as they sing, “you dissolve but you never really wash out.” The song is also one of the rare but effective moments on Mantra where Sunjacket makes use of horns, which slip seamlessly into the mix.

The lyrics on Mantra are somewhat vague and almost impressionistic in nature. Their moody delivery is usually unhurried, with short phrases and even single words uttered at a time. One the most clear lyrical themes come on “Alligator,” which finds our narrator reflecting on a negative experience with another person. One could assume it’s the story of a scorned lover from lines like, “I compare you to an alligator / you bit off my head,” and then the admission later: “And now I’m okay.” We can’t be sure, though. All around, it’s one of the more pop-orientated tracks in its structure, emotional shape, and delivery.

On the final song, which shares the album’s name and is delivered much like a mantra, there is a repeating line that seems to underscore the band’s melancholy mood: “Is this it? It’s underwhelming.” It is poignant while keeping things ambiguous enough for the audience to make their own interpretations, as is the case with most of the album’s lyrics.

Just like with the lyrical content on the album, it seems as though everything on Mantra is deliberately placed, carefully orchestrated instead of thrown together. The band clearly took great care to piece together the collection of songs that are each individualistic but also play a role in the album’s larger scope. Sunjacket offer something for lay listeners and music snobs alike on Mantra, and the album puts us all on notice for what’s next.

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