Suburban Living Finds Comfort in Loneliness and Isolation in How to Be Human

Suburban Living Finds Comfort in Loneliness and Isolation in How to Be Human

Philadelphia’s dreamy Suburban Living takes us to a pensive new world in their third album How to be Human, out August 28th from EggHunt Records.

How to be Human both sonically and lyrically embraces themes of loneliness, isolation, and finding comfort. It’s hard not to listen to these songs through the lens of a pandemic, but frontman Wesley Bunch originally wrote these years well over two years ago as a follow up to 2016’s Almost Paradise, the band’s first album with its current line-up. From its glittering opener to its more bouncy singles, the album speaks of late nights at crowded bars on forgotten streets, evoking the idea that we the listeners have been left on the outside, standing alongside Bunch as he oversees the world in its current iteration.

Though having an airy, light quality in places, the album’s strongest aspect comes in the contrast between the dreamier pieces and the deeper, lower tracks. The darks play with the highs; the idea of exploring a town’s main street is in direct opposition with that of being left alone there. The strongest tracks on the album are the dramatic and tense “No Roses” and the desolate “Once You Go,” the latter closing out the album with a xylophone-esque synth against what sounds like metal sheets rattling, a grating coming closed. Yet in between these tracks comes a comfortable reprieve in the sweet, sonically lighter “Video Love (T’s Corner)” that serves to emphasize just how beautiful these darker tracks are.

There’s a difference in leaving and being left even though in both cases, we end up alone. This album perfectly captures the sort of anguished melancholy that comes from being alone. “Hold on to reasons to laugh,” Bunch sings in “Once You Go.” “Once you go / I don’t have reason anymore.” The lyrics are ambiguous enough that listeners can add their own experiences, yet specific enough to bring certain images to mind. “Now you’ve left here I’ve crumbled,” he says in “No Roses.” “You can come back; you can stay.”

The instrumentation carries the album, giving us melodic bass lines, touches of piano and even a guest appearance on saxophone from Max Swan. It leaves us free to read into what is unsaid to make our own meanings from the soundscapes the band has created. Some of these songs had been popping up on setlists across the past year, and they are all encompassing live: Michael Cammarata’s drums fill up every corner of a room; Chris Radwanski’s basslines have never been punchier; and Peter Pantina’s role on guitar and synths adds emotional depth to Bunch’s words.

The sounds of How to be Human feels instantly familiar. This entry into Suburban Living’s discography is much denser, darker, and more emotional than the band’s previous LPs, but Bunch’s voice is unmistakable. This is a more sophisticated Suburban Living than that of Almost Paradise, but they’ve retained their strong hooks and catchy melodies. The penultimate track, “Video Love (T’s Corner),” is an old favourite, having been previously released as simply “Video Love” on the b-side to 2013’s “Always Eyes.” This version is more refined. It’s janglier; it tells a story with a slightly different timeline. Despite the methodically slow tempo, the outro breaks into arching synths and drums that fill up all the space with an intensity that translates fantastically into the live performance. Bunch’s lyrics remain paradoxically comforting: “Dark carries me away,” he sings on “Main Street” as the song carries us home.

This album would be perfectly at home in summer ‘86, somewhere between the Cure’s The Head on the Door and Kiss Me Kiss Me Kiss Me. “Sixteen Hours” is their answer to “A Thousand Hours”; “No Roses” has the plaintive synths and twanging guitars of “Sinking”; and “Indigo Kids” remembers a slower “The Exploding Boy.” Yet at no point does How to be Human feel derivative or dated. Bunch’s lyrics paint a picture of an entirely new—one might say almost alien—world. And though it was written in a pre-pandemic world, the themes are universally human.

Do I know now how to be human? No. But Suburban Living sure makes me more comfortable with my humanity.

Photo Credit: Kelly Cammarata