Saintseneca – ‘Such Things Review’

Posted: by Riley

If 2015 has made anything clear, it’s that Saintseneca is a super-group. The Columbus band is an overflowing cup of talent – one that holds The Sidekicks’ Steve Ciolek and All Dogs’ Maryn Jones, as well as chief songwriter and frontman Zac Little. Clearly, this is primarily Little’s project; but, his impressive supporting cast helps push Saintseneca’s unique myriad of folk, punk, pop, and psychedelia to new heights. Last year’s Dark Arc was a break-out for the talented collective; the cinematic alt-folk record is backed by bustling post-punk percussion, and embellished with sweeping psychedelia. That LP was produced, engineered, and mixed by Bright Eyes’ Mike Mogis and released on ANTI. 

There are several possible trajectories for a band as dynamic as Saintseneca. Some worried that the band would be pigeonholed as just another band in the slew of ‘fake-folk’ groups we saw rise to prominence 2 or 3 years ago. I will admit, it might’ve made sense for Saintseneca to jump on tour with the Lumineers and lead a crowd of 16-year-olds in a sing-along of ‘Happy Alone.’ Sometimes it’s hard to take folk acts seriously in 2015, and it certainly doesn’t help that the band’s lead singer looks like Vincent Van Gogh and dresses like its 1910. But question not the authenticity of Saintseneca‘s sound. Little is from a small Appalachian farm-town in rural south-east Ohio, and plays a multitude of acoustic instruments I can’t even pronounce. The space they’ve carved out for themselves in music is distinct and unique. I mean, they’re certainly one of the only bands who can play shows with The Hotelier, Swarming Branch, and LVL UP all in one stretch (maybe Hop Along?). Saintseneca’s intrigue brought many on board, and before hype for a Dark Arc follow-up had even accumulated, Such Things – the 3rd LP from the band – is here.

Such Things feels like a natural departure for Saintseneca. Many will probably call this record more ‘indie-friendly,’ and compare the exultant hooks and clean electric guitars to indie-rock giants like the New Pornographers or Spoon; these comparisons make sense, but undercut the record’s heart and breadth. The distinct manner in which Little exerts elements of folklore and existentialism in his lyrics remains in tact, along with the wide range of instruments and sharp melodies. The band continues to pair strummy folk verses with exuberant group vocal choruses – choruses that are consistently even catchier than what we heard on Dark Arc. Much like Jacob Sigman’s Living Room EP from earlier this year, the band’s bigger pop sound does not diminish the sincerity that lies at the core of all their projects up to this point. 

And let’s be clear about one thing, Saintseneca have not lost their folk roots here. Little is still writing folk songs, they’re just brightly decorated and invigorated by his bandmates, whose influences are evident on the LP. Such Things benefits from robust arrangements, packed with impressive supporting elements that further buttress already-substantial songs. In the construction of each boisterous track on this LP, Little and company introduce lustrous textures that would be foreign to Dark Arc: the sleepy, I’m Wide Awake-esque guitar that courses through the veins of ‘Estuary,’ and the damp vocal adornments and glimmering strings of ‘The Aweful Yawn.’ These subtleties do not take over the songs, or render the songs unrecognizable as Saintseneca – in fact, Such Things feels like the most complete representation of the band so far. ‘Sleeper Hold’ and ‘River’ – the lead singles from the LP – evidence the band’s ability to make thumping folk-pop sound sophisticated, and most importantly, make it their own. While the buzzing guitars and stomp-along percussion could undermine the poise and integrity of the talented band, they instead highlight some of the strongest songwriting in the band’s catalog. Such Things cements Saintseneca as pioneers and re-inventors of folk-rock, bringing gentle minimalist narratives to their respective maximalist ends – or leaving them almost completely stripped down with equal success. Little has a unique presence in his music; one that hits as hard when it’s enveloped in the psychedelia of Dark Arc as when it parades the rambunctious songs here. 

Score: 8.6/10

Essentials: ‘The River,’ ‘Estuary,’ ‘The Aweful Yawn’

Preorder the album here!

FFO: The Sidekicks, The Hold Steady, The Shins

Editor’s note: this album rules, with another favorite song being ‘How Many Blankets Are In’ coming at the smack middle of the album.