Album Review: the innocence mission – Sun On The Square

Pennsylvania-trio the innocence mission have come together once again, to deliver another gloriously beautiful and gentle record of chamber-folk stunners. Since the group’s setup as we know them today, initiated by the release of Birds Of My Neighborhood almost twenty years ago, Karen Peris (guitars, piano, pump organ, accordion, vocals), husband Don (guitars, drums, vocals) and Mike Bitts (upright bass) have been creating wonderfully atmospheric and ethereal numbers that kickstart the senses – and new record Sun On The Square continues this spectacularly.

There are many things to admire about this trio’s project, from Karen Peris’ poignant and reflective lyrics, delivered with such delicacy and emotion, to the arrangements from all three members, moving from swooning, lush, orchestral textures, to fragile and intricate moments of tranquillity. With album-opener Records From Your Room, for example, one immediately gains a sense of intimacy, made evident by Karen’s beautiful and poetic words, accompanied by lightly-plucked guitars and haunting piano keys.

Lead-single Green Bus continues this feeling, but with a slightly bouncier undertone, juxtapositioned by Peris’ search for a lost accomplice in the rain. The strings on this track arrive out of nowhere and add a gorgeous, swelling texture to an already lovely number. There’s also a clear sense of family input on this record, with Karen and Don’s teenage son and daughter adding violin and viola respectively, to numerous tracks. On latest single Look Out From Your Window, for example, the sibling’s strings add layers of bewitching beauty, accompanied by Karen’s angelic, almost child-like vocals.

What must also be observed is the carefully-crafted arrangement of the tracks on this record, which seem to reflect the mood of Peris and co. as they journey around their home, the place where the band have recorded every album from Birds Of My Neighborhood onwards, using various rooms of the Peris home, like the dining room where the piano sits. Buildings In Flower and title-track Sun On The Square are melancholic and reflective pieces, whilst album-closer Galvanic offers a sense of hope and optimism, reflected in the choral vocals of the Peris pair. There’s even an unexpected lead vocal from Don on the triumphant Star Of Land And Sea, cleverly slotted in at track number eight.

Sun On The Square is nothing short of stunning. Granted, Peris’ soft and infant-like vocals may not be for everyone, but the emotions drawn through her many references to nature, mystery, love, loss, fear and hope cannot be ignored. What’s more, the musical arrangements on this record are simply glorious, and have been perfectly crafted to add both lush, orchestral textures when required, but also soft, tender moments of serenity in equal parts. Think of this album as a patchwork quilt – lovingly and carefully formed, for all to cosy up in its warmth and sense of familiarity.

Dom Kay