Written by Sam Bowden
The Taiwanese indie rock quintet Sunset Rollercoaster have become a low-key favorite of several of us here at WIUX. Over the course of two albums and a few EPs, the band has become known for their omnivorous taste and eclectic inspirations. They dabble with jazz, dreampop, “subtropical vibes,” plenty of ‘80s synthpop, and even some funk. With their latest SOFT STORM, the band further experiments with their eclectic sound to make a concept album with some new collaborators and solid songs.
The album expectedly begins with the calming sounds of a soft storm before some ‘80s synths and airy guitar enter the mix. The first track, “Soft Storm,” as well as later tracks “Overlove (Rehab)” and “Midnight with Paul” are three interludes in a nine track album. This is not a negative comment, however. Some of their most affecting work comes through in their instrumentation, as the band has become proficient at curating good vibes. These are tunes that could perfectly fit on a “chill beats to study to” playlist, but they also bear undercurrents of anxiety and longing. The album was meant to sonically reflect and channel memories of typhoons from their childhoods in Taiwan. What better time for this concept than 2020, where everyone is similarly seeking safe refuge inside from the brooding storm that is the pandemic.
As always, Sunset Rollercoaster deliver their signature lovelorn lyrics, where their sentiments come through in idealistic statements: “I wanna live with you in the teahouse” (“Teahouse”). Some highlights from the new record include “Passerby” with fellow dreampop artist Michael Seyer. The song nicely pairs the two singers’ soft voices and culminates in a sweet jazzy guitar solo. “Farewell passerby / It’s your lullaby / There’s no forgetting you.” It’s hopeless-romantic lyrics like these, combined with satisfying instrumentals, that come together to make a really good Sunset Rollercoaster song. The final track “Candelight” with South Korean artist OHHYUK is also a solid track. It makes the overarching (storm as a parallel with love) concept stick, with lyrics like “Now those moments we’d had / All snuffed out like those candelights.” This one is darker and more brooding than their typical track, the throaty vocals from OHHYUK sounding like they could be from Hozier. The tune is catchy, too, and upon revisiting the album you realize this is the synth line that is introduced in “Soft Storm.” Who doesn’t love a good bookend?
There are definitely some highlights, but the album still leaves me wanting that deeply satisfying dopamine rush of their standout Jinji Kikko EP (2016). Some tracks become fairly forgettable despite being pleasant sounding. Overall, the album reaffirms what we already knew. Sunset Rollercoaster defy genre and continuously prove they are great instrumentalists. In the best way possible, their songs usually sound something like glorified elevator music. If you’re down with that, they might be for you.