They slip in stealthily, these Athens-based indie rockers with their sublime, dreampop-tinged psychedelia. First track on sophomore full-length Sunswimmer plucks, drones, and only very gradually builds to a head of steam, wherein multiple sonic visions of Rain Parade, Television and maybe even Notorious Byrd Brothers-era Byrds duly appear. It’s a deft touch—of the plectrum, of the echoey harmonies at the mic, of the stealth percussion—yet an effective one, because then they positively catapult headlong into track numero two, a raveup rocker called “Manners” that wouldn’t be out of place in a British shoegaze band’s setlist circa 1989. You’re already hooked, and not about to unbuckle for the duration.
Random comparisons? O, let me count thee ways… no, let’s not. These young gents—guitarists Phil McGill and Graham Powers, bassist Ben Hackett, drummer Alex Wooley—have already been racking up the regional kudos starting with their explosive live shows and previous album Yardboat, and their sound is wholeheartedly unique even if it does frequently prompt fond memories of past icons. The mark of a great band is how it slots into tradition while carving out a little corner all its own, and New Madrid does exactly that. From the insistent throb of the anthemic “Forest Gum” (you’ll be whooping along with the massed “whoo-woooo-ooh”s on the chorus) through the warm analog hum and woozy, sun-kissed vibe of “Homesicle” to the jammy, poppy 12-minute closer “And She Smiles” that choogles and sparkles on the order of a Velvet Underground/Dream Syndicate/Yo La Tengo mashup, Sunswimmerlives up to its title and leaves you basking in its residual glow.
It’s one of the still-young year’s most out-of-the-blue delights, and infused with enough staying power to potentially wind up on best-of lists come 2014’s close.