Slow Dancing Society: Priest Lake Circa '88
Hidden Shoal

Drew Sullivan's third Slow Dancing Society full-length doesn't deviate too radically from the stylistic path followed by his previous releases, 2006's The Sound of Lights When Dim and last year's The Slow and Steady Winter. That's hardly objectionable, however, when the new work sounds so wonderful—if anything, in this case a dramatic change in direction would be cause for alarm. Admittedly, the new material exudes greater warmth than its icier predecessor and, consistent with the Priest Lake Circa '88 title, its seventy minutes are imbued with a greater nostalgic dimension than ever before, but, even so, the three works still come across like a natural trilogy more than unrelated collections.

The new release finds the Washington-based producer refining his Slow Dancing Society sound to near-perfection, and confidently exploiting the music's immersive potential and emotive impact in numerous extended settings (two weigh in at about fourteen minutes each) that take the fleeting glory of summer days as their inspiration. Sullivan occasionally lets natural sounds—the babble of voices in “Forever Young,” bird twitter in “This Lilac Life”—seep into the tracks, thereby strengthening the material's real-world connections. A multi-hued evocation of carefree summer afternoons spent at the beach, “Glimmer and Gleam” reflects wistfully upon evanescent moments that become ever more precious with the passage of time. In “This Lilac Life,” shimmering tones and sheets of electric guitars stretch out languorously while in the meditative “The Red Summer Sun,” stately fields of guitars levitate while bells tinkle in the distance. “A Warm Glow” and “Sun Spots” feature slow-burning cascades of shimmering electric guitars and synth swells so radiant they're blinding. Consistent with its “looking-back" theme, “The Iridescence of Innocence” adds organ and acoustic guitar to its epic, slow-motion washes. Priest Lake Circa '88 reveals even more strongly the stylistic affinity that exists between Slow Dancing Society and Manual, and no doubt any devotee of the latter would find Sullivan's work equally appealing. It's interesting that ambient is the genre handle usually affixed to Sullivan's Slow Dancing Society music but labeling Priest Lake Circa '88 ambient seems superficial and reductive when its time-suspending vistas include such a glorious wealth of detail.

September 2008