Susto’s newest album, & I’m Fine Today, showcases the Charleston band’s ability to diversify their instrumentation and aesthetic, but ultimately strays away from what they did best on their debut album which was appealing to the local music scene through beautiful accounts of life in Charleston. The album comes three years after their official self-titled debut, which catapulted Susto to the top of the growing Charleston music scene. It has been a busy time for the band. They have smoothly made the transition from playing small bars like The Royal American to opening for nationally acclaimed acts such as the Heartless Bastards and The Lumineers. Their on stage chemistry continues to accentuate the authentic elements of their music. Seeing them debut the album at Monster Music on January 11th felt as if the audience was watching a group of friends sharing their music for the first time, but Susto has definitely transcended your average local band playing in the record store. After much work and patience for & I’m Fine Today, frontman Justin Osborne’s emotions permeated through the audience as he sang and performed as passionately as ever before.
Today ventures into new territory for the band. It is even more influenced by psychedelia than their debut, and radically so. Johnny Delaware’s twangy, “down home in the south” guitar riffs have been replaced by warm-toned synth riffs and swooping guitar arpeggios. Osborne’s lyrics no longer paint charmingly nostalgic portraits of life in Charleston. Instead, Susto is living up to their name, which refers to feelings of an out of body experience, as they question existence and religion through a psychedelic lens. Osborne gets fixated on the questions left unanswered by his God-figure, whether it be “[why] all of the trees look the same” in “Mountain Top” or pondering “if space is really expanding” as he bellows on “Cosmic Cowboy”. However, the common denominator between the songs is not religion, but instead the use of illicit substances. The questions are prompted by acid, alcohol, marijuana, and probably other drugs. Susto certainly is asking some imposing questions on this album, but their philosophies and curiosities are distorted by the kaleidoscopes of their hallucinogenic drug usage. Granted, It would be a huge burden to ask Susto to answer their own questions, but perhaps they would be able to offer a more unique perspective on the matter if they could relate religion to anything besides an acid trip.
Psychedelia can be a powerful tool in music to force the listener to think about a mundane subject in a new regard, just as acid might force its user to perceive reality in an alternate way. However, Today only scratches the surface of what could be said about tripping, so much so that it often the feels as if the group has nothing to share with their listeners except that they love psychedelics. The entirety of the project is overdone in this regard. Their trademark “Acid Boys” merchandise, which directly comes from Osborne’s knuckle tattoos, is not going anywhere, and neither is Susto’s independent record label of the same title. Practically all of the song titles have some reference to drugs, and the album cover looks like a tripped out version of the Garden of Eden. Susto’s updated sound is refreshing, but ultimately the thematic content has long since been exhausted.
Written by Phillip Greene
Read our interview with Susto at Savannah Stopover last year!