By all appearances breezy and unassuming, “Bulldogs” has a rock-solid core. A new band from Portland, Sunbeam is a six-person ensemble, and you can hear the depth of musical contribution in the song’s assured, layered flow. Six people in a band sounds like a lot on the one hand, but many rock songs do indeed feature at least six distinct instrumental sounds: electric guitar, acoustic guitar, keyboard, bass, drums, and percussion. For practical and logistical reasons, most bands make do with three to five members, doubling up on instruments (typically of course the drummer plays percussion too) and/or bringing in outside players.
So the larger band does not require a larger or more complicated sound, but it does change the vibe in elusive but meaningful ways. A song can, as here, feel at once brisk and relaxed, as it makes room not simply for its sounds but for the people who make the sounds. Separating the drummer from the percussionist has a notable impact. I also like the purposeful way the electric guitar is used—not as a background noise producer but as quiet foreground texture. And then there are horns (oops! a seventh sound, and eighth: two horns), which blend into the fabric of the song without any “now listen to the cool horn part” posturing. (Horns are both played here by an outsider, but the band has since added a trumpet player to the fold.) In the end, for all the extraverted appearance of being played by a larger ensemble, “Bulldogs” has an appealing introversion about it, which is embodied in Brian Hall’s sweetly yearning vocal style but plays out too in the restraint of the arrangement and, even, in the recurring wordless vocal/keyboard hook that in the intro sounded like a throwaway but as it returns acquires a lovely centrality, and will probably be the thing that sticks in your head most of all.
“Bulldogs” is fifth on the band’s 10-track debut album, Sunbeam & the Lovely Ghost, which was self-released earlier this month. You can buy it for a price of your choosing at Sunbeam’s Bandcamp page. MP3 via the band.