The Sun Parade’s full-length debut, Yossis, was released to high expectations. The band, which began as a solo project by Chris Jennings, had morphed into a duo – with Jefferson Lewis – and then a quartet – adding drummer Doni McAulay and bassist Jacob Rosazza. The Northampton, Massachusetts group tasted success locally, with a 2011 eponymous EP selling well in New England and a single, “Need You By My Side,” topping local charts. With a new rhythm section added to the mix and a debut LP, the Sun Parade looks to continue that trajectory and make the jump to the national scene.
Though the addition of McAulay and Rosazza adds more energy and rock influence, the sound is still steeped in the earthy folk tradition. Warm acoustic guitars and jangling mandolin are the instruments of choice. Jennings’ and Lewis’ vocals bounce off each other, intertwine, and meld into a single rustic harmony.
At times, the quartet seems fighting for control, with the rock and roll rhythms opposing subtle folk melodies. The result is a folk sound that is more like early Avett Brothers than James Taylor. The album’s best track, “Nothing Lasts Forever,” thrives on that dichotomy. Subdued acoustic strums contrast blues-rock riffing and crooned vocals give way to Jennings yelling “Your love cools down/my head’s on fire” over a rock beat in the chorus.
The constant push and pull of opposing ideas is reflected lyrically as well. In “Need You By My Side” –one of two songs to carry over from the EP (“Waiting for Life to Drastically Change”) – Jennings contrasts images of a promising relationship with the devastation of its end. “Everything about her is lovely/and I can’t get her off my mind,” he recalls while asking her to “be my constant.” Once the relationship dissolves, those same thoughts of her are now haunting him: “Every day I awake in the same single bed/ unwillingly stuck here inside my head.”
If Yossis’ strength is in its musical dynamics, its weakness is in lyrics that are occasionally uninspired. At times perfunctory (“It’s so hard in Chicago”) and at others sophomoric (“We got places to see but I’m still buying weed/from some guys I knew back in high school”), the lyrics don’t deliver with the same consistency as the folk-rock grooves.
When the music and lyrics both hit their stride, though, the resulting splendor is undeniable. Such is the case with “Oh No,” Yossis’ penultimate track. A swelling and pulsing string section complements an introspective Jennings, meditating on the question “how can so much mean so little to someone?” As the young Jennings and Lewis grow as songwriters, these inspired moments should occur with more frequency.