The guy on the left is Justin Sullivan. Yeah, I know, and no, not that one. This Justin Sullivan used to play drums in a US indie band called The Babies – a band led by singer and songwriter Kevin Morby that we have to confess we’d never heard of before finding Sullivan’s debut solo album, In The Break. Listening to The Babies, it is obvious that ignoring them for so long hasn’t been our smartest move, they’re really good. So their drummer has just released his own record under the moniker Night Shop. From what we gather, Sullivan has always been a little more involved in shaping the songs of the bands he played drums in than your usual drummer might be (although it’s not a completely uncommon thing for people behind the drum kit to start their own thing – the most recent example coming to my mind being the brilliant dreampop releases by hardcore drummer Tyler Kershaw, who goes under the band name of Funeral Advantage).
Sullivan took a year’s break from touring and playing in other people’s bands, came up with the songs for this album, got a gang of friends together and recorded it in a few days. The result is a high-end production that superficially hasn’t got a lot in common with the usual brand of indiepop this blog is dedicated to. If anything, In The Break leans far more towards a folk rock tradition than it does towards pop. And still, we believe it has its place in our world. Sullivan himself cites Jonathan Richman and Wilco as influences and there’s no disputing that (who are we to dispute an artist’s influences?), but there’s someone else that these songs seem even more reminscent of to our ears. Taking predominantly nostalgic folk rock and country song patterns and injecting carefully calculated doses of the purest pop exuberance into them, has, after all, been the formula of Pete Astor’s excellence for more than three decades, so it is his work that provides our link from Night Shop to indiepop.
Overall though, In The Break isn’t exactly an upbeat affair. Opener „The One I Love“, „You Are The Beatles“ and „I Was Alone“ are the more cheerful tracks on the record, with a lot of solemn and pensive offerings in between. Topically, large parts of the record are self-referential in that the break Sullivan took for writing the music and the significance of the music he’s devoted himself to during that break are not only present in the album’s title but also in many of its songs. However, there’s something about the cracks of life becoming apparent in that break which goes beyond his personal experience. The album reveals a man who is very much at ease with himself as well as with the austerity and the defeats that the darker sides of life subject us to. These are songs about having made one’s peace with the conditio humana, which basically is that life’s shit but it’s just about possible to cope. And then there’s always the moment when you flip the tape over on your tape player and are rewarded with immediate exhilaration. Listen, for example, to the multitude of brilliance going on in „I Was Alone“ (https://nightshop77.bandcamp.com/track/i-was-alone): It only goes on for 134 seconds but it offers a half-minute intro, a proper guitar solo, two renditions of a chorus many songwriters would sacrifice their right arm for and the immortal line „everything I ever wanted don’t you know I found it in that sound“. Beat that.
In The Break was released in September 2018 on Woodsist / Mare Records: