If your San-Fran band is called Sandy’s and your chosen strand is stonewashed surf rock, you’re surely setting yourself up to be perennial summer soundtrackers. Certainly, the name “Sandy’s” would lend itself particularly well to some sort of beach-front establishment, and for the first fifteen or so minutes of Fourth Dementia, the sights and sounds of the ocean feel attainable enough that you could extend your hand and feel the sprinkling of sea spray. Everything is masked with an incandescent sheen, the sort which constricts your vision when you walk outside from a shaded room. The songs are as laid back as deck chairs, and they sway like slow-motion revellers bathed in the dwindling heat of a setting sun – but should you allow yourself to become lulled and write this off as a nonchalant frolic, you risk being claimed by the dark waves that approach once that sun has dipped below the horizon.
It’s not like Fourth Dementia gives you a choice, though. It’s just so unapologetically serene and shimmering to begin with – the guitars are played with a touch an atom wide, the layered vocals rolling around like a pleasant breeze – that you’d have to have an ice-cold disdain for the summer season to not be soothed. ‘Barnyard’ carries such a sleepy slackness that it needs to be held together by a twinkling, jittery synth to avoid melting into hot goo. Even when the gentle percussion is parlayed into tempestuous toms and a fleshed out beat, you’ll only want to leave your feet so that you can slink back down once they subside.
Blithe as it may be, Fourth Dementia does see Sandy’s honing a whistle-stop pace with enough dominion to not exhaust. ‘Yuba Diamond’ finds itself in the grip of a current, rife with tension as dictated by the gradually swelling vocals, fidgeting drums and quietly constant bass twiddlings, yet it still settles into some sort of happy hysteria: “The place looks like a dream, men are not who they seem,” sounds like some distant, abstract rallying cry, one that incites an impulse without being explicit, and just before a boiling point is reached ‘Great Highway’ lunges in with a tread that’s neither urgent nor restrained. The two tracks go hand in hand as brief bastions of the record’s bleached aesthetic, placed perfectly so as to ensure that complacency never drifts into the fold.
And just as we acclimatise to his unwavering UV rays, Alexi Glickman starts to unravel something. Following a potent mirage of marimba and rattles at the midway point of the album, he dejectedly utters “listen to my shells, hold them to my ear, hear that ocean sound, I know it’s near”. The setting that has been so warmly constructed prior is all but diminished into a lingering, moth-eaten memory, a slow zoom away that residually exposes the edges of the thought bubble that contained it. The shift thereafter isn’t seismic, but it’s definitely noticeable. It’s the same densely stacked vocals, heat haze synth warbles and quivering guitar calls, they’re just dis- and re-assembled from a sprightly saunter to burdened prowl.
This 180° of tone yields some incredible, aniseed results: ‘Sisters’ stifles with its packed canvas, and though it follows the course instrumentally, the rewiring discloses pangs of paranoia amidst the thumps, thwacks and choral sighs: “If I’m thinking of a dream that changes what I see, is today still today?” The me that cosied up to the swivel and sway of side A was unprepared for such harboured malaise, let alone the forthcoming out-of-left-field warp of expansive space rock in ‘Slow Cone’. With this the tempo is slowed to a drift in the eternal vacuum, where the only sound is the static of your grey matter as it struggles to comprehend the vast nothing. “This is not a game!” Glickman belts out in ‘Who Lives’, as if we needed any sort of reminder that we’re no longer at the beach.
Emboldened by its numerous chasms of intrigue and thematic one-two punches, Fourth Dementia directly foils the hordes of baseless records that have so watered down the appeal of anything that can be characterised as “sunny”. Even before the about turn that approximates the album Sandy’s take on surf rock is an engaging and nourishing one; it’s that gradual detachment that really provides the lustre that so many others are lacking. Without the employ of brash gimmickry or the awkward hammering together of polar styles, they’ve crafted a unique and unfeigned, unobvious journey that deftly uncovers the psychoactive properties of beach foam and belies any “blasé” appendage that usually accompanies music born of the sun.