SISU // Blood Tears
Recommended Track: Counting Stars
According to Urban Dictionary, “sisu” is Finnish term defined by “the ability to face head-on and always overcome”, having the qualities of “tenacity, determination” and perseverance. It seems only fitting then that SISU would be chosen as the band name for the project of Dum Dum Girls veteran Sandra Vu, whose sonic departure from garage is exemplified in her debut album, Blood Tears.
Vu is quoted as saying, “I didn’t want to sound like any one thing — a shoegaze band, an electronic band, a rock band. But I did want to make pop songs with un-pop sounds…” It’s difficult to present that mission statement without inviting critique, because the fact remains that Blood Tears is full of songs that play to those genres individually. The challenge of any band seeking relevance in the contemporary musical climate is to find a way of incorporating past and present, and oftentimes, SISU goes the easy route rather than taking the risks that could make them great.
See “Sinking Feeling”, essentially a pop number which expounds on feelings of inadequacy and the ability to challenge those impulses with action. The lyrics and vocals channel Lush with a bit less flourish and a bit more punk edge. Comparisons to Lush can also be noted in the (relatively) lively chorus of “Harpoons”, buoyed by driving guitars reminiscent of second-wave shoegaze. Then there are the cuts that veer wholly into post-punk territory, like “Electronic”, a brooding synth number which stalks the darker corridors of an early eighties nightclub, or the album’s first single, “Return the Favor”, which I initially swore was a cover (or possibly an homage to KD Lang’s “Constant Cravings”), but it’s not.
Those songs are good songs. But they are also familiar songs. Inevitably, the more successful tracks are those which put down roots by blending the sensibilities of their forebears with a modern-era touch.
Album opener “Counting Stars” is one such track – a song that darkly embraces 2013, rather than looking to 1983 as a guidepost. “Shotgun Running”, found in the second half of the record, is perfectly paced, a tale of new beginnings unfolding with unhurried grace. Here Vu’s vocals shine and instrumentation walks the listener through an aural dialogue that manages to be pensive, expectant, hopeful and finally, resolved. The album’s namesake, “Blood Tears” is the most sonically interesting and lyrically honest, as Vu intones “wash this blood off from your hands/you can’t take it back to save a man”.
The crux of Blood Tears is that it is an enjoyable album with a solid vision, built around a very specific ambience which lacks an anchor. Would this album be well-received if it wasn’t a project of Sandra Vu’s? I think so. Despite its lack of cohesiveness, Blood Tears is an interesting package which invites and rewards multiple listens. And to be fair, carving an original niche with a preexisting artistic persona isn’t usually accomplished overnight. That takes more than a debut album. It generally takes “tenacity, determination” and perseverance. Sound familiar?