Pushing the limits of a musical sound, style, or genre is a good thing. It’s important for artists to test the boundaries of their own creative capacities as well as those of the medium in which they operate. The greatest moments of inspiration often come from people who’ve dared to shake up tried-and-true conventions in the interesting of telling a brand new story. But there’s also another kind of triumph in being confident in one’s niche and doubling down on their core talents.
This is where we find Say Sue Me on The Last Thing Left. On their third album, the South Korean quartet delivers classic indie rock full of surf guitar riffs, dreamy aesthetics and laid-back energy. As a follow-up to their 2018 album, Where We Were Together, they reach even deeper into the well of jangly C86 influences while showcasing a love for tight songwriting amidst languid grooves. It’s as if Camera Obscura, Calexico and Black Tambourine joined forces to pen delectably sour pop tunes with tight choruses.
Sumi Choi’s breathy midrange voice balances fresh-faced naïveté with moody musings on young love. The guitar work of Byungkyu Kim zips and buzzes with aplomb, especially as its subtle crunch pairs nicely with dextrous lead lines. The rhythm section of Sungwan Lim on drums and Jaeyoung Kim on bass is both bright and steady as their combined efforts result in a sublime, rising energy without bombast.
The whole affair sounds like a love letter to the halcyon days of youth. Sonically and lyrically, Say Sue Me conjure up moods and motifs perfect for a warm spring day on the quad at a small liberal arts college. The songs evince bike rides in the glorious sunshine and rainy afternoons looking out the window. It’s the soundtrack to both holding hands with your first serious relationship and pining away after the person who’s broken your heart.
On “Around You,” the four-piece graces the world with a candy-coated confection bursting with hooky goodness. Kim offers up this jammy little lick the bridge for some contrast before the tune returns to its sugary center. With “We Look Alike,” the surf sensations take center stage, complete with a light, breezy ambiance that imagines a picnic on a sunny beach. But it’s the light touch of tremolo that provides the song’s anchor, especially as Choi’s heart opens up to the idea of a deeper love.
“Photo of You” is the standout track of the album, even as it takes a step back from the peppy energy of its compatriots. It’s a ‘60s torch song mixed with ‘90s indie rock guitar tones, which suits Choi’s angsty, pleading vocals as she reaches out for a lover who’s walking away from her. The album comes to a rueful, yet optimistic conclusion with “George & Janice,” right down to its jaunty flair. The thumping piano chords and march-tempo drums imbue the song with the sort of winsome, knowing sensibility, the sort you might hear as the end credits roll in a twee coming-of-age film.
With The Last Thing Left, Say Sue Me has crafted vintage indie goodness that never dips into pastiche. It embraces moods and luxuriates in emotions while never feeling moody, much less overwrought. The combination of clean production with excellent pacing and tone results in an album with very few frills but immaculate execution. By digging in its stylistic heels, the band offers up layers of accessible flavors with familiar textures that are comfortable without being complacent.