Arguably shaped by its quiet moments just as much as it is its chaotic, neo-symphonic interludes, there is no label nor style that I can use to categorize Sun King Rising’s stunning Signs & Wonders; it’s something that is simply too classical and too futuristic at the same time to fit into any of the predesignated boxes some critics live and die by. For the rest of us, SKR’s masterful performance here is one to be consumed slowly and with a lot of attention to the most understated of details it includes, starting of course with the introduction created by “Bitter Waters Sweetened,” “No. 6 Magnolia Avenue” and “Lanterns on the Levee.”
Our leading man proves never satisfied with using only one avenue of expression in this piece, opting to expand his methods of communication to the tonal (“Buried in the Blues”), textural (“Jubal Takes a Wife”), and sonically abstract (“She Was a Blonde”), never allowing for the centerpiece to devolve into something we’ve heard somewhere else before. Signs & Wonders explores its concept before it ever has the chance to fully realize what it’s becoming, but rather than this producing a messy juggernaut of an LP, it winds up yielding one of the most potently emotional and captivating listens of the season so far.
The video for “Buried in the Blues” is more or less a moderate illustration of the underlying themes in the composition itself, but considering the straightforwardness of “No. 6 Magnolia Avenue” and even the video for “No. 6 Magnolia Avenue,” it acts as one of the more eccentric points of interest outside of the music on its own. You don’t have to be all that familiar with SKR’s body of work to pick up on his multi-medium artistry in Signs & Wonders, and content like “Low Wine and Cruel Ruin,” “Anchorless” and the outright obscure “She Was a Blonde” convey passions unto us that normal songcraft would have never been capable of passing on its own. There’s no faking the emotion on the table in “Lanterns on the Levee” – truth be told, I would say trying to evade the overwhelming personality of this LP is a lot harder than actually appreciating the message it wants to share with the world.
Whether humbly subtle or explicitly brash in the moment, this is an album that will undeniably find a way to get its point across to the audience, and I think that was all Sun King Rising wanted to do here. That exclusively is one of the harder challenges any artist can be faced with, but he never shows any signs of sweating as he moves from one song to the next in Signs & Wonders. A live rendition of this eleven-track epic would be fascinating to experience for myself, but even if we never get there, I don’t believe there’s going to be a single critic who hears this record and says SKR isn’t deserving of endless praise for the originality of the piece in general. He couldn’t have made Signs & Wonders any more insular and intimate yet still accessible to us, and that earns him a lot of respect in my book.