Funny how we tend to associate moody longing with grey, cold places. Maybe it’s because there is science behind it, as any former Pacific Northwest native can tell you all about the very real effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder. But even people who have never stepped foot in the chilly, rainy climates of Seattle or Glasgow– or wherever else you imagine when you think of chilly, rainy climates– know the feeling through the art that comes out of these places. The Seattle sound is connected to depression. The Glasgow sound is moody, literary seriousness. The Florida sound is…well, that’s more complicated isn’t it? To some the Florida sound is the same as Orange County sound, all pop punk snottiness and weirdo aggression. Or maybe the Florida sound is Tom Petty’s hopeful road ready Americana. The Florida sound could be a number of things, but I’m guessing your version of it does not sound like Sales.
On their self-titled debut, Floridian duo Sales make a better case for themselves as the sound of longing, and not longing in that more traditional grey, geographically rooted sense. This is the kind of longing you experience when beauty surrounds you yet you remain unhappy and lonely, the feeling of being completely in love yet also feeling as though the “distance between us is the size of a planet.” It is a longing that is wide open and expansive, unobstructed by claustrophobic post-punk rhythms and dirgy low end, just clean and true and sharp. More stereotypically moody groups frequently like to oppress you with their feelings, surrounding your ears and brain with a heavy sonic burden. But Sales take the opposite tact, allowing silent spaces and barely there tones to communicate as strongly as their expressive guitar work and Lauren Morgan’s terse, bright melodies.
You can hear it in pre-LP Sales single “Ivy,” where an odd, insistent drum beat has its bottom drop out right as Morgan’s vocal emerges, the kick replaced by a droning guitar line that slightly suffocates the chiming lead in order to free up space for the juxtaposed melodies. Morgan aims for higher registers here but not in an aggressive, showy fashion– instead the vocal delivery feels like someone trying out a melody for the first time, pushing at it to test its durability, not straining but exploring, at odds with the certainty of that looping guitar. Even on songs where the vocal is bolder, like the standout track “Jamz,” you get the sense that Morgan is telling you a secret, communicating in the singsong cadence of a close childhood friend. Sales’ music operates in this general realm of intimate secrecy, every ingredient a glimpse at some personal emotion you’re not sure you should know about but feel valued for being let in on.
Morgan’s lyrics have that secretive quality as well, seeming vague but only in the way an inside joke does. The suburban ennui of “Thurs 6-25,” for instance, is preceded by some wordless howls kept low in the mix, the Peter Hook-like lead bass riff maintaining a queasy balance between the dancey drums and a profoundly melancholic guitar riff that accentuates Morgan’s hopscotch melody as she reflects on growing up with her brothers and her “mind’s eye” as her only companions, the importance of the title’s date never clarified, the song itself finishing on a comma rather than a period. Sales seem like a band that prefer to operate on first takes and improvisation within rigid frames– they utilize loops and minimal rhythms and repeated phrases, but Morgan and Shih offer slight alterations in their melodies that keep the songs interesting in their unpredictable playfulness.
Of course, that means that some songs feel incomplete (and indeed, some are mostly sketches rather than fully formed performances) and others, like autotuned oddity “Mondays,” change up the basic Sales formula without yielding actually interesting results. But Sales’ discipline and intuitive expression of a universal feeling through unexpected methods is more than worthwhile, it’s a refreshingly unique sound that seems capable of evolving and expanding into something even more remarkable.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover