Sometime Sunday (Tooth & Nail Records)
“I don’t think I’m supposed to sell you this,” said the guy at the Jesus Chapel as though we were being surveilled. “We’re pulling them from the shelves.” He explained: “Complaints about some of the material.”
I could imagine. The liner notes from Sometime Sunday’s previous record, Stone, featured an illustrated apocalypse panorama in a style best thought of as counter-reformation cum horror-core. Though I adored that first album, I rarely opened the sleeve, partly from embarrassment at what I took to be aggro-juvenalia (i.e., the kind of scene suspended junior high schoolers draw on notebook covers outside the principal’s office), and partly because of nightmares.
“Oh come on,” said the four of us, who’d driven in a rusting ‘78 Camaro to the drop-ceilinged, florescent-lit bookstore for the express purpose of buying Drain. “Look, you can sell four of them right now, and shelve the rest. We’re not get-offended types.” And so, before we’d heard the first notes, Drain already had an air of danger, of clandestine cool that we suburban teenagers rebelling in our way against corporate hegemonic megaliths in the ‘90s found irresistible.
Sometime Sunday’s Stone was pretty much the hardest music I listened to consistently in those days. While I had appreciated Whitecross and Bride’s acid rock, I’d put it away with the other childish things of the previous decade (e.g., big hair, insane guitar riffs, posturing). Looking for my anger’s edges, I dabbled in the heavy metal of bands like Vengeance Rising, whose energy was contagious but whose darkness I couldn’t abide. But Sometime Sunday was different. They had more swing, more style. The band dealt in all the rage of Rage Against the Machine — their closest secular analogue — but thanks to the big bluesy bass, the music, though often angry, wasn’t simply about anger, nor simply an orgy of self-loathing as so many bands in the ‘90s were. I couldn’t really point to any music quite like it, and I still can’t. But that doesn't mean I don’t like to try: take one part Pennywise and one part Minor Threat, add bass riffs à la Red Hot Chili Peppers, but strip it all down to lo-fi, Mike Knott-style, and add lyrics that cross Keith Green with the prophet Isaiah, and you’re close. Which is to say, though the songs are spare, they feel starkly original.
In a switch unusual for Christian music, Sometime Sunday’s music is as important as their lyrics. The band was not — compared to, say, Audio Adrenaline — using music to sell a message however pressing. For a band this aggressive, they took recording unusually seriously. As result, Drain sounds hardly dated these 20 years after its release. Even Rage Against the Machine has taken on the patina of years, but Drain feels as urgent now as it did upon release. Part of this is surely due to the dream team who manned the recording: The Prayer Chain’s Andy Prickett produced Drain with Brandon Ebel and engineered it with Aaron Sprinkle of Poor Old Lu (and so much else).
But the words are still important. For example, consider these from “Blind”:
I can feel the mountains crumbling
I can see the sky turn red
I can feel the host of heaven
Calling me up when I’m dead
So far, so prophetic, with an uncoded reference to Revelation and the assurance of salvation, but lead singer Mikee Bridges takes a turn for the direct on the refrain which made not a few people uncomfortable:
You will die
Yes you will die
These images are all grounded in Christian theology and tradition, but as Bridges screams them, they take on a darker meaning — one reason the band was never going to play youth group arena shows. But Drain isn’t unduly driven, using the bass and volume to figure force as happens in more highly-produced commercialized rebellions such as Nine Inch Nails’. Instead, Sometime Sunday uses rhythm of attack. The forcefulness is inbuilt rather than added on from the producer’s chair. One gets the sense that the album would sound just as tough, just as aggressive, with a drum kit made of overturned paint cans.
Inasmuch as they’re about anything besides the morphine drip of rage, the songs are about war: war with addiction, with lust. On the first track, “Needle,” the refrain (“Needle will push you down again”) cleverly reverses the motif of the pusher; drug users may think they’re depressing the syringe, but it’s pushing them.
“Suffocate” criticizes Christian evangelistic techniques that emphasize sin and punishment outside the context of graceful relationship:
Can’t smile even once before I’m condemned to death.
Excuse my tongue, I made a mistake.
Is it so hard to accept me as I am?
We seek the same, you know my name, I give you no shame.
You don’t care about my life.
For all that desires are duly menaced and their baneful effects lamented, Drain is still a hopeful record. One finishes it feeling triumphant rather than excoriated, so complete and easy is the listener’s identification with the speaker. The record closes on a bassy instrumental jam that, again for these careful practitioners, doesn’t feel self-indulgent, but rather gives shape to the now closing song cycle. No one is exhausted despite all the energy expended; one imagines the band kept making these small, perfect songs into the evening after the recording proper finished.
Sometime Sunday never got big. There was some crossover appeal as punk kids who didn’t care about church came to shows to push people around, but the band didn’t tour much and broke up before Drain was released. Two of the members formed a follow-up band (Tragedy Ann) that released a derivative record bought almost entirely by people who wished Sometime Sunday were still together. Lead singer Bridges went on to become a leader in the Christian music scene rather than an outlier; his festival, Tomfest, became one of the few to survive among the many closures of the festival circuit in the ‘90s, and featured appearances by Damien Jurado, Pedro the Lion, Poor Old Lu, Starflyer 59, and MxPx.
Some records seem ahead of their time: moments on Perfecta, moments on Mercury, every note of Straight Six. Some seem perfectly of their time. Strange as it sounds, Drain feels like neither — not quite timeless, not “eternal,” but undated somehow. I’m not sure it wasn’t written alongside Ginsberg’s “Howl” or the wailings of the prophet Jeremiah. It may have been recorded in Tin Pan Alley in the 1920s, or on someone’s iPad this year. What I do know is that it’s a record I’ve returned to perennially, and each time with admiration, for, lo now, this entire adult life.