Album Of The Week: Sumos – Surfacing

Our pick of the week's new releases is the debut album from the hugely promising Manchester quartet

Some things are much harder than they seem. Keepy uppies. Latte art. Monkey bars. Getting a full night’s sleep past the age of 40. But these all pale in comparison to the Perfect Three-Minute Pop Song. It’s a true artform of deceptive complexity, binding together laser-focused melodies, memorable vocal lines and engaging lyrics in a confined space. The best make it look stupidly easy, but the best are few and far between.

Sumos - Small Talk

Enter Sumos. The Manchester quartet started 2023 with two singles that propelled them into exalted company, particularly for fans of Teenage Fanclub, Cast, The Smiths and The La’s. ‘Finding A Way’ and ‘Small Talk’ both carry massive dopamine hits yet seem so ridiculously effortless. The only way ‘Small Talk’ could be any more of a Perfect Three-Minute Pop Song is if it was two seconds longer. There’s a cosy familiarity in the way its chords follow each other and how Joel Sloan’s vocals (a Mavers/Powers blend, if they’d been born 30-odd miles further east) descend and then ascend again. But Sumos are savvy enough to throw in subtle curveballs to keep things fresh, like the skronky guitar lines weaving about beneath the surface or the New-Order-circa-Republic feel of Andy Kilroy’s drumming.

Sumos - Finding a Way

Those singles are now proven to be perfect amuse-bouches with the release of Surfacing, Sumos’ superb debut album. It’s no exaggeration (even among those of us prone to hyperbole) to suggest that this might be the finest example of guitar-driven indie pop for many a year. Its opening four tracks – which include the aforementioned singles – flash by in a blur of jangling guitars, pristine lead lines and breezy momentum. By the time ‘Small Talk’ finishes, you’re getting a good sense of how long it’s going to be before you want to listen to anything else.

And then it shifts. Another five songs exactly like ‘Enemies’ and ‘Small Talk’ wouldn’t hurt anyone, but Sumos start to stretch themselves and their talent and potential become increasingly apparent. The lilting ‘Mostly Harmless’ rides along on a lovely pastoral folk guitar part that recalls The Coral’s quieter moments and Bill Ryder-Jones’ solo work. It’s a change of pace you didn’t know you needed.

But it’s ‘Come On Over’ that signifies just how far this band could go. A chugging 90s alt-rock intro opens up into a widescreen mid-tempo rocker that builds to a pounding crescendo, always keeping one eye on those gigantic hooks. ‘The Other One’ allows Sumos a bit more space to play with noise and dynamics, venturing into the dissonant yet melodic spheres of The Wedding Present and Ride.

Nine songs in half-an-hour. That’s just over three minutes a song. But while Sumos spend the first half of Surfacing working within a tight framework, they spend the second half building it into more ambitious structures. The internal structure is solid – built on infectious melodies and razor-sharp hooks – but Sumos have the chops to keep expanding without sacrificing any of the giddy buzz of instant gratification. A seriously impressive debut that marks the arrival of a seriously impressive band.

Released: 12 May 2023
Label: Safe Suburban Home/Meritorio
On Tour: TBC