Drew Harris, frontman of Philadelphia’s The Naked Sun, has always worn his heart and his influences on his jean jacket sleeve. “We make music for people that really dig in to their music,” he says of the band’s decade-plus long tenure. Call it alt-folk, alt-country, indie-roots, the Naked Sun call it “honest-rock”. Their latest release, Modern Life, features some of the band’s strongest work to date. The record features a stellar cast of supporting players, including Shane Luckenbaugh (American Trappist), Taylor Kelly, and Dylan Mulcahy (formerly of Shark Tape, and now The Naked Sun’s new drummer).
Starting off right, there’s the Westerberg-and-Springsteen-walk-into-a-bar vibe of “Wooder” (a playful nod to Philadelphia’s ‘hoagie-mouth’ accent). Powerful and direct, the band hits you with overdriven power chords and a steady melody that decries all the things in life you didn’t learn (“Studied for that test/The Golden Rule/He never learned nothing from no school”). Modern Life is a slice of alt-country bliss, and the gospel-style backing vocals really tie the whole thing together (we can thank Philly-by-way-of-Rochester-NY singer Taylor Kelly for that), along with founding guitarist’s Tim Campbell’s pedal steel. Campbell on pedal steel may be one of The Naked Sun’s strongest secret weapons, as you’ll hear not only on this track but anywhere else he decides to drop it in.
“Nature’s Vanity” is where the record shifts tone from the loud guitars and working-man’s blues of the previous tracks. It opens slowly, with acoustic guitar and ambient percussion, blooming patiently and steadily throughout just under seven minutes of lush, dynamic arrangement. Campbell’s pedal steel floats on top of it all, drawing attention and then slipping back into the ether. It’s truly a master class in how to layer without overwhelming. Harris doesn’t even come in singing until the three minute mark, but it all flows together effortlessly. Music writers tend to throw around terms like “Eastern” and “world music” whenever we’re confronted with anything that strays outside the basic tenets of modern rock music. Fusion is a many-faced beast, and “Nature’s Vanity” fuses the band’s folk-rock leanings with a more open, less formal arrangement style, reminiscent of artists like Incredible String Band and Sandy Bull.
Proving they’ll never run out of dimes to turn on, “Abracadabra” hits like a classic R&B track, and Harris brings the soul without trying to be a “soul singer” (a trap that any singer can potentially fall into if not careful). “Searchin’” breathes to life with a gorgeous horn arrangement (featuring area players Andrew Urbina and Elliot Bild), and swings like it came out of a New Orleans’ late night recording session. The band split their time between the newly relocated Uniform Recording (Jeff Zeigler) in Philadelphia, and the Gradwell House (Dave Downham), an old Masonic lodge turned studio in Haddon Heights, New Jersey. Closing out the album is “Dead God”, a slow burner set atop a classic Hammond organ, and bringing it back to the heavy guitar that started us all out at the top. In six songs, The Naked Sun have given us a lot to listen to, and relisten to. The songs ask you to “dig in”, so start digging.
It’s been a bit since we’ve heard from The Naked Sun, their last full-length release being War With Shadows in the summer of 2017 (highly recommend, btw), followed by the ‘Sun Rising’ EP in mid 2020 (some recorded before the pandemic, some by Harris alone in his home studio during the first lockdown). And while the “we were all set to make a record and then COVID” story has become so universal it borders on cliche at this point, it’s been worth the wait for Modern Life. The Naked Sun continues to expand and test their musical boundaries with every release, never going backwards, and Modern Life is a fine example of honest rock n’ roll.