Slow Dancing Society

Slow Dancing Society is the one-man show of Washington-based composer Drew Sullivan. He makes contemporary, tonal mood music of the highest order - part ambient rock, part ambient techno, part environmental ambience.

Slow Dancing Society

country of origin:

Ambient rock, ambient techno, shoegaze, neo-romantic, environmental, post-rock

decades active:
00's - 10's

essential releases:

  • The Sound Of Lights When Dim (2006, Hidden Shoal)
  • Priest Lake circa '88 (2008, Hidden Shoal)
  • Under The Sodium Lights (2010, Hidden Shoal)
  • Laterna Magica (2012, Hidden Shoal)
  • The Cogent Sea (2014, Hidden Shoal)
  • The Wagers of Love (2016, Hidden Shoal)

Reviewed by Mike G

Slow Dancing Society is the one-man show of Washington-based composer Drew Sullivan, whose hybrid of electronica and ambient rock is one of the best examples of a style that some also might call (ahem) shoegaze or (cough) post-rock. Not content to just create a chilled-out mood - which he does very well - his best music also tugs on an emotional level with remarkable depth.

His sublime debut album The Sound Of Lights When Dim (2006) uses various combinations of piano, stately organ, synthetic tones, percussive clicks and especially electric guitar. It's very gentle, melodic and unabashedly romantic. The unusual intimacy of Sullivan's compositions is reflected in the wonderful track titles: "How Life Was Meant To Be Lived", "A Lonesome Sentiment" and so on. The repetitive minimalism of "A Song That Will Help You Remember To Forget" overlays multiple guitar motifs on a subtle bed of keys with such tenderness it may well bring a tear to your eye. It's a sensual, addictive album and, yes, best played when the lights are rather less than bright.

The Sound of Lights When Dim has a number of spiritual cousins in Sullivan's oeuvre, notably the excellent Under The Sodium Lights (2010) and Laterna Magica (2012). These albums have a similar intimacy and tonality; on one level, Under The Sodium Lights could also be seen a series of wordless love songs.

Also in the same league quality-wise are the more recent Cogent Sea (2014) and The Wagers of Love (2016). The former is a collection of 12 carefully structured miniatures ranging from muted, sombre washes of synthetic sound to fully arranged rock instrumentals that are very slow and very beautiful. While Sullivan's personal sound is still very much in evidence, it's great to hear the artist still nudging ahead with fresh ideas. The muted fast-spinning pulses on "Cogency" and "Rising Dark; the morphing, ricocheting loops on "Come The Morning Light"; these sound like new elements in his music. There is still lots of his trademark electric guitar, whether it be muted shimmering chords or piercing, reverberating solos. And the wide variety of synthesised tones and strings is still used sparingly - less is more, space has meaning, and silence is golden. The Wagers of Love similarly tries new things without leaving any doubt as to identity of its creator. Its emotional post-rock miniatures are by turns cinematic, tender and edgy, and his music remains as seductive as ever.

Also recommended - if you're feeling more adventurous - is Slow Dancing Society's third album Priest Lake (2008). It revels in romanticism but is focused on a sense of place rather than people. It's certainly different from most of his catalogue, being much more landscaped and impressionistic and lacking the rhythmic pulses and clicks that often propel his music. Sullivan clearly loves the swirling, vibrating sounds of a Hammond organ played through a Leslie speaker cabinet; it's this sound, in combination with reverberating electric guitar, that defines the release.

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