Hearing Aide: SUSS “Heat Haze”

I’ve been listening to the Heat Haze EP from NY-based ambient country trio SUSS for about a week. If you’re a fan of ambient music, this EP does not disappoint. It’s five songs of soothing pads articulated with a variety of instruments, mostly string instruments, often played in repetitive loops bringing about a sense of calm and focus. For me, the title track conjures less of an image of haze than that of an old shack overlooking a swamp surrounded by lush green and hanging vines.

SUSS is a NYC-based trio of Pat Irwin, Bob Holmes, and Jonathan Gregg integrate their NYC roots into their music, playing off the similarities and differences between the Southwestern landscape (which influenced Night Suite) and that of New York, and in doing so, stretching the definitions of both “ambient” and “country.”

Reviewing ambient music is a challenge in that it is quite different from most other music. Most musicians want you to focus on the music itself, and hear all the interesting things the artists behind them are doing to draw you in. Ambient music is meant to put you in such a state that you are completely relaxed, not focused on the music at all. Heat Haze pulls that off. I really had to force myself to pay attention to what SUSS was doing. And even then, I would find myself lost in thought and not paying proper attention.

SUSS is credited with creating the ambient country sound, and the one critique, if it is even that, is that I have had a hard time finding the country elements of their music. Sure, there’s some acoustic guitar and even some lap steel, but neither are employed in a particularly “country” fashion. Two songs, “Grace” and “Train” hint a bit at some country roots, the latter perhaps teasing it a bit more than the former, but ultimately, I would bin this squarely in ambient without the country category.

My favorite track is the final one, “Pine,” which I can hear being the backing track behind a Nick Cave spoken word song or possibly in the middle of a Nick Cave & Warren Ellis film soundtrack. The plucked strings of what sounds like a baritone guitar add a nice dynamic element contrasted against the droning and whirling tones that make up the bulk of the song. It’s a haunting track; one that will be part of my nighttime routine, and perhaps present on my hot yoga mix, for years to come.

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