The first two minutes of Sun June’s third album, Bad Dream Jaguar, is a reverie - Laura Colwell’s voice floats above a slow-burn, sparse synth, conjuring a tipsy loneliness, a hazy recollection, a disco ball spinning at the end of the night for an empty dance floor. Sun June’s music often feels like a shared memory – the details so close to the edge of a song that you can touch them. And as an Austin-based project, their music has also always felt strangely and specifically Texan – unhurried, long drives across an impossible expanse of openness, refractions shimmering off the pavement...
The first two minutes of Sun June’s third album, Bad Dream Jaguar, is a reverie - Laura Colwell’s voice floats above a slow-burn, sparse synth, conjuring a tipsy loneliness, a hazy recollection, a disco ball spinning at the end of the night for an empty dance floor. Sun June’s music often feels like a shared memory – the details so close to the edge of a song that you can touch them. And as an Austin-based project, their music has also always felt strangely and specifically Texan – unhurried, long drives across an impossible expanse of openness, refractions shimmering off the pavement in the heat.
But on Bad Dream Jaguar, Sun June is unmoored. The backdrop of Texas is replaced by longing, by distance, by transience, and a quiet fear. The only sense of certainty comes from the murky past. It’s a dispatch from aging, when you’re in the strange in-between of yourself: there’s a clear image of the person you once were and the places you inhabited, generational curses and our families, but the future feels vast, unclear – and the present can’t help but slip through your fingers.
There’s a constant push-and-pull in Sun June’s songwriting. Vocalist and band leader Colwell and guitarist Stephen Salisbury have shared songwriting duties since the band’s inception, but Bad Dream Jaguar is the first time they collaborated from afar. Salisbury left Texas for North Carolina in 2020, shifting the way the band recorded, and beginning a long-distance relationship between him and Colwell. It gave more room to Sun June’s other members – lead guitarist Michael Bain (whose lithe guitar parts Colwell credits as imparting that “dust ol’ Texas sound”), bassist Justin Harris, and drummer Sarah Schultz – to explore other projects. And for Colwell, it made it easier to explore songwriting as an individual, living and writing songs alone.
It also meant there was a newfound privacy to these songs, as Colwell and Salisbury wrote songs for and about one another some 1300 miles apart. The distance strained their relationship, and they poured those struggles into songs. When Salisbury sent the first iteration of “Washington Square” to Colwell, it felt like a gut punch – a, “Damn, he’s really going through it” moment. It felt heavier to be collaborating and songwriting in this way, not inhabiting the same room but instead the same lonely sadness. But it also allowed for a new type of intimacy. And it was a comfort in some ways, to be allowed into someone else’s psyche and pain. To be truly seen, even from afar.
Colwell left Texas in 2022 for North Carolina. The record was recorded in spurts, the first Sun June LP that wasn’t just born out of five musicians in a room. It took five or six sessions across a number of studios, with the bulk of it coming together at producer Duszynski’s Dandy Sounds. They also invited in more collaborators to flesh out their cinematic, spacious sound. Here, the existing line-up of Colwell, Salisbury, Bain, Harris, and Schultz, alongside guitars/vocals from new touring member Santiago Dietche, is built out with woodwinds from Alexis Marsh, Justin Morris’ pedal steel, and Duszynski’s guitars and synths. It required trust in new collaborators, and in each other, in a new process.
There’s a mix of hi-fi and lo-fi; some songs, like “Texas,” which the band had to learn at a breakneck pace ahead of their recording session, was recorded on a first take, live in the room, while “Eager” and “Easy Violence” feature early vocal takes from Colwell, the final songs built atop the demos. “Moon Ahead” began as a rambling minutes-long a capella voice note Colwell texted Salisbury, a mish-mash of ideas as she revisited the younger versions of herself, what she had thought adulthood would be. “I was so young,” Colwell sings, a callback to the band’s initial single, “Young,” from their 2018 debut, Years.
“Easy Violence” details staying up all night, being a menace to society, falling into bad patterns, but is followed by “John Prine,” a drumless, piano-based ballad, a mash of pedal steel manipulated to sound closer to synths, a sleepy melancholy. “Ambitions,” with its twinkling synths, feels as much a reassurance to someone else as it is for yourself, while “Mixed Bag” is their answer to a Tom Petty song - and also feels like the record in miniature, about trying to retain a relationship and holding everything together, in spite of everything pulling you apart.
The bulk of the record was written after the release of 2021’s Somewhere. Bad Dream Jaguar is the most disparate yet, a collage of soundscapes, of fever dreams. It toes the line between country and pop, like putting on a cowboy hat and sitting in your bedroom alone, or getting all dressed up in glitter and just staying home.
Colwell has an ear for restraint, for editing it down and embracing emptiness; Sun June’s records have always been deceptively airy sounding in the face of melancholia, belying its densely textured foundation in a sense of ease. The layers on Bad Dream Jaguar don’t tangle they float, sheaths of divergent and luminescent sonics hanging together as the sun goes down, darkness seeping in.
Bad Dream Jaguar exists in the chasm between giving up and going all-in. And a flicker of quiet confidence powering through, a small hopeful glow at its core. “There was an east coast. There was a farm road. There was a five lane highway home. And it’s all right,” Colwell sighs on “Mixed Bag,” and you can’t help but believe it.
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