A {{{Sunset}}} Over Pink Clouds

When the Austin-based Sound Team released their third and final album, Movie Monster, in 2006, the subsequent acclaim was mainly attributed to the group’s ability to apply a wide range of styles onto one album without being overbearing or stylistically uncreative in their own right. With multiple styles from the serene psychedelia on the standout “No More Birthdays” to the infectious dance-rock on “TV Torso” coming into play, I found it fascinating how the group of siblings and high school friends were able to make an album that sounded so cohesive despite containing a wide variety of styles that contrasted each differing track immensely. Capitol Records also seemed to be aware of this, showing no reluctance in signing an act that did not exactly coincide with the general perception of a “major label artist” due to Sound Team’s prevailing use of stylistic experimentation. Capitol dropped Sound Team shortly after the release of Movie Monster to coincide with some corporate housecleaning and the group called it quits shortly after that. It was not a surprise to anyone who gave Sound Team’s material even the slightest listen that the members all began their own projects immediately though, as ambitious songwriters often appear to prefer death to being artistically idle. As one of the Sound Team’s primary songwriters, Bill Baird had already been working on his other source of creative output before Sound Team even dissolved.

Clearly a follower of the ideology that an idle moment is a wasted one for a capable musician, Baird is the type of artist who could release a handful of full-length albums in a full year to the surprise of no one. In fact, he has already done so this year with Bright Blue Dream and The Glowing City, two full-length albums that he released under his {{{Sunset}}} moniker in March and July, respectively. “I feel like I could die tomorrow, you know?” Baird once said in an interview to The Onion. “I try to take advantage of every breath of air I have, every second I have alive.” This perspective explains why Baird has been ceaselessly active in the music scene this decade, most recently devoting his entire body of work to {{{Sunset}}} (he also has used Silent Sunset or simply his birth name). Though Baird is the chief songwriter and performer, he works with a collection of artists who are clearly on the same page since they are individuals who have a constant desire to play and listen to freshly invigorating material. Keyboardist Will Patterson, bassist Willis McClung, and drummer John Kolar are mainstays in the project, with coast-based “crews” of additional musicians lending a helping hand on the road. In addition to Baird and Patterson, “east coast crew” electric pianist Michael Baird (Bill’s brother) was also a member of Sound Team.

Prior to the releases of Bright Blue Dream and The Glowing City, {{{Sunset}}} put out a collection of songs in December in cassette form entitled Pink Clouds. Only 100 copies were initially distributed to close friends because the group found the recording quality to be too muddled and the song choices too indecisive for a wide release, but they still planned to put it out officially in some form in the near future. To their dismay though, one of the 100 copies was leaked online and the mixture of sloppy cassette-to-MP3 ripping, periodic skipping and tempo-related technical issues, and a flawed track order provided for a misrepresentation of {{{Sunset}}}’s prevalent values of production and consequential atmospherics, in addition – of course – to the fact that no group wants their material available to the general public without their permission. Also, considering that this was leaked before the group had time to clear up their name and intentions with Bright Blue Dream in March, one can only imagine how frustrated Baird and co. must have been. Since they are a group who clearly has a fan base, though, one of the obtainers of the original tape uploaded a newer transfer of the tape in September. He remains anonymous, but he received the thanks of Baird via his blog. “Very thorough job, anonymous person,” he wrote, mentioning how they took the time to upload the proper rip, scan the artwork, and write out the liner notes. “Thanks.”

Now that I have finally listened to the intended version of Pink Clouds, it has only convinced me even more that Baird is one of the most underrated songwriters of the year; this is the third release in the past 12 months that sees a form of quality that is rare for an artist to even reproduce once a year. The best part? You can get it for free, with Baird’s permission to boot. I would not normally endorse downloading one of my albums, especially since I want to re-release it someday in a mastered version (the cassette version is unmastered),” he wrote on his blog. “But in this case, I think people should hear the correct versions of the songs.” So yes, the entire collection is available to download here for free. As far as the quality goes, I am shocked at how consistently great it is for an album that the group considers a “mix tape” of their own songs. “Loveshines” is a fantastic representation of Baird’s ability to capture the essence of ‘60s pop, employing a twinkling keyboard melody over a flurry of piano riffs and a distantly reverbed guitar progression. His voice remains in a constant hush, even during the chorus where thumping brass complements the original instruments in a way that is reminiscent of quality psychedelia; it is primarily due to the inherently lo-fi production, an intentional method that benefits this track and many others on Pink Clouds greatly.

Though other lo-fi gems like “Dear Friend (Collapsing Domino)”, a track led by a series of piano chords and a uniquely chugging rhythm section, and “You Cut My Heart in Two” comprise several of the highlights on the release’s “Side A, the captivating qualities do not stop there. Even after a robotic voice declares mid-way through the spaced-out “Sometimes We Fight” that the listener has “reached the end of Side A”, there is plenty more for the listener to be treated to. The shoegaze-tinged “Go to Mexico” is one of the most fascinating efforts on the release, featuring a swirling mixture of whirring organs, cooing hums, and distant guitar licks that combine for an atmospherically enthralling journey that falls somewhere between ‘60s pop and classic shoegaze. To give you a better perception of {{{Sunset}}}’s official and more polished releases, I have included the excellent tracks “Dear Broken Friend” and “Zombies”, the latter of which should be suitable come Friday. They are my favorite tracks from Bright Blue Dream and The Glowing City, two releases that should be at least checked out regardless of your disposition toward Pink Clouds. I personally love all three releases, but one must be warned that Baird is the songwriter who can try anything at anytime; it is a quality that I admire immensely because it certainly shows on the quality of his songs.


{{{Sunset}}} – Zombies



{{{Sunset}}} – Dear Broken Friend



{{{Sunset}}} – Loveshines



{{{Sunset}}} – Go to Mexico



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Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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