If Sutro had one goal with the quartet’s new full-length album release Broken Distance, it was to up the energy level — from downtempo to, well, midtempo. But the band had far more than one goal. It wanted to up the game overall, with more fully realized songs, richer melodies and production, and a bolder sound. And with the assistance of producer Joe Chiccarelli, Sutro has made good on its plans. Says Chiccarelli of the endeavor, “They are the perfect balance of beats and atmospheric electronic elements and accessible pop song writing.”
The album inhabits a sonic territory, a genre-inclusive zone, where everything from electronic, to indie, to pop can hang out on the same street corner and harmonize. The LP’s ten tracks are seductive throughout, often emotionally moving. And it's earwormily listenable, with tons of little grace noises that make you want to spin it again and again, to get at every bit of it: delicate glitch effects at the opening of “Heaven,” snatches of muted trumpet on “Surrender,” delicious synth work, and pneumatic percussion throughout.
Sutro’s music is determinedly from the near future. It's a willful indietronic hybrid — part live-band drive, part DJ sensibility — and the splendid tension of the music is listening to that hybrid, that graft, come to fruition. The new recordings add live drums to Sutro’s sound and emphasize richer-than-ever songwriting, yet technology remains at the core of what Sutro does. You can hear the digital sheen in all the songs — think Metric or Phantogram — with the deep, rhythmic pulse in the programming of lead singer Tyler Stone and the studio- as-instrument work of keyboardist Jesse Gay. Keenan Wayne's complex, melodic bass lines do more than just hold down the roots, while Guitarist Patrick Hinds’ textural elements can often seem more like a synthe- sizer. “This LP solidifies the Sutro sound,” says Keenan. “There are songs that have been gestating for awhile, balanced with others that still have that new-car smell, but for the first time, there is a thread of cohesion, with no filler.” Says Tyler, “Joe challenged us creatively and took us a little bit out of our comfort zone to help push the music over the top.”
When Sutro was just beginning to record, the group was deep into chillout, deep into downtempo, deep into the sounds that had come to rightly define San Francisco nightlife — “dance music’s mellower and more sophisticated cousin,” wrote Bill Picture in the San Francisco Chronicle. “Our intention has never been to make dance music,” says Sutro’s Tyler, “but to fuse the elements of electronic music with a live aesthetic.
Before Sutro even managed to finish its debut EP, a track from it, "Temptress," landed on the San Francisco edition of the hallowed Destination Lounge series. It made perfect sense for Sutro’s brand of loungey pop- tinged music to appear between house and of-the-moment electronica. The magazine XLR8R described Sutro as “sexy, liquid, cinematic soul that just happens to have enormous commercial potential.” XLR8R was onto something: A Sutro song would appear in the video game Tap Tap Revenge 3, and their music was licensed by Nokia, suiting the brand's composite image of global style and next-gen tech. Sutro shared stages with the likes of Thievery Corporation and Brazilian Girls, and earned comparisons to trip-hop acts Portishead and Massive Attack. A move to Portland for Tyler and Patrick brought them into contact with Jesse, who says of his contribution to the band: “I set out to bring my analog synths/studio, keyboard playing, and production abilities in order to make a fuller sound.” Keenan keeps Sutro rooted in San Francisco, where he lives, and the band uses jamLink to bridge the distance to Portland and rehearse in real time.
With Tyler as the siren in the machine, Sutro makes music for and about relationships in the age of rapidly iterating technology, technology that both brings us closer, allowing for constant contact and ambient awareness, and tests our relationships with countless new distractions. And for all its emotionally dark underpinnings, the LP manages to stake out its own patch of sunlight. Part of that sunniness is the resilience of Tyler’s vocals — that as bad as things might get, there is always a new day, a new romance, a new song.
Interviewed & Written By Marc Weidenbaum
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