Ashley joined the The Black Hollies on bass for the band’s final tour in 2014, after which she and Justin began writing songs as Sunshine & the Rain – with Ashley on vocals/bass and Justin on guitar. Shortly after the 2015 release of their debut single “Can’t Stop Thinking About You b/w Pale Blue Skies," Abramson introduced the Jersey City-based duo to Jon Spencer. They promptly hit it off and headed out to Sonic Youth’s Echo Canyon West studios to prep the band's first album. Produced by Spencer himself, 2017’s The Darkness of My Night was an undeniable confection of girl group pop hooks, twisty psychedelia, garage-rock grit and punk-rock glam. The album was critically well-received and Justin and Ashley played shows with bands like Ted Leo, Boss Hog, Van Pelt and Pronoun.
In the very dark, very snowy winter of 2017, the couple went back into the studio with the goal of recording a new track or two. A second album wasn’t in the plan – but writing snowballed and plans quickly changed.
Beneath the Stars, recorded with Tom Beaujour at Nuthouse Recording and Kaleidoscope Sound in New Jersey, holds fast to the band’s expert pop sensibility but strips away the heavier psych elements to reveal 80s synth pop, glittery new wave and piano-tinged 70s soft rock. By challenging themselves to write on different instruments and experiment with new textures, sounds and arrangements, the duo was able to give themselves the breathing room, and permission, to evolve naturally. It wasn’t about testing limits, it was about ditching them completely. Ashley, used to writing on a bass and a drum machine, picked up her acoustic guitar, revisiting the folk leanings of her youth. Justin dialed down the electric guitar and pummeling beats, favoring instead a couple of vintage drum machines and Ashley’s childhood keyboard – an old Yamaha that became the workhorse of the album.
The result is a record that’s more spacious, immediate and affecting – but still catchy as all hell. The couple has a gift for crafting sprawling melodies that are equal parts cheeky and sophisticated, adventurous and air-tight. Album opener “It’s All In Your Mind” is pure pop confection laced with handclaps and put-downs – Ashley’s voice may be honey soaked but there’s always plenty of shade to cut the sweetness like a knife. Anchored by a pulsing rhythm section and sweeping synth line, “Just The Way It Goes” could give Young Turks-era Rod Stewart a run for his money and the duo unleash their inner Mickey & Sylvia on on "Too Much Too Soon." “All We Need” melds the playful sophistication of OMD with the melodic swagger of Scritti Politti, while “Today” wields the aspirational heft of a radio-ready power ballad. Elsewhere the album balances clear-eyed anthems with quieter, more confessional moments like “Thank You For Believing In Me,” a sparse, vocal-driven song that’s both the emotional centerpiece of the album – and a happily ever after to the fairy tale.
Sunshine & the Rain have spent 2018 playing out as often as possible, including support slots with the Psychedelic Furs and Ron Gallo.
Beneath the Stars is out October 26th, 2018 on Ernest Jenning.