When their self-released debut exploded in 2018, by ambient standards at least, New York quartet SUSS seemed to come out of nowhere, flavored with a secret history. Dressed in gray manes and black jackets, they looked like downtown art-rock trenches living deep in John Zorn’s liner notes, but when they woke up waking up from mild medical sedatives. It sounded like if you heard a Ry Cooder movie score on . beautiful sunrise. In fact, their background was more predictable and unexpected than expected. Two of his four multi-instrumentalists, Bob Holmes and Gary Reeve, had their origins in the 1980s cowpunk pen’s brisk bronco, Rubber He Rodeo, before sprinting. To a career in cartoons and children’s shows.
As SUSS, with Jonathan Gregg and Pat Irwin, instead of chicken-frying New Wave theatrics, they threw country and bluegrass relics of pedal steel, mandolin, dobro, harmonica, slow, fast, and past and present. . Their music expands the world to a very lonely point, a pastoral essence that does not change much as it gradually opens and closes, stretches and recedes. That city boys conjure up these mythical plains and wide western skies makes it a double-glazed dream. They call it “ambient country” and claim to have pioneered it.
It was wise to accept this term. Guardian The 2020 article on SUSS features pedal steel experimenter Chuck Johnson and a few others. The stifling early days of the pandemic were arguably the perfect time for a genre like this to make a name for itself, but it’s puzzling that no one has really tried framing before. The distance between Ennio Morricone, two of SUSS’ music’s brightest roadsters, isn’t too great. Americana itself is full of silent instruments and atmospheric minimalism, and putting it into the gentle palate of his ambient music is nothing new. If anyone has ever pulled off the opposite, it’s probably Richard Buckner.
So step into SUSS’s new self-titled double LP primed for a new genre-hybrid revelation, and you might be disappointed. Much of it resembles the adventurous yet rigorous type of contemporary concert music heard at Big Ears Festival rather than ambient or country. The sound design is sculptural, structural, and gorgeous. Music is neither raw nor fragile. A brand new cowboy stands as tall and neat as his boots. But it’s undeniably full of marvelously recontextualized country tropes, full of sadness, strength, inspiration, and comfort, whatever you call it.