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The pain of pleasure (and back again): Sunbeam Sound Machine’s “Possum” delivers hugs and heartbreak


Full confession, I’ve experienced very few breakups in my lifetime, but Sunbeam Sound Machine’s third album, the adorably and thematically named Possum, felt like all three of them. It feels idiotic to compare an album to a bowl of soup, but, as I enter a Chicago autumn, it just seems right. With its magnificent melodies, hints of groove, and heartbreaking lyrics (“Cynicism doesn’t pay the rent”– like, are you kidding me?). Possum provides comfort through distress, and, once it gets its hooks in you, it doesn’t quit, making you sway along to the motion of your own brain chemicals. 

The album, with few exceptions, plays with the rise-and-fall aspects of love, combining sad lyrics with happy vibes and vice versa. Songs like “Mutual Lives”, “Ceasefire,” and “Easy” will have you grooving along until you listen closely enough to hear ‘I know you, but you’re not the same/These are the things that make me feel insane’. Heartbreaking truth. 

On the other hand, “Worst Kept Secret” and the appropriately titled “V” (it’s the fifth track, but perhaps also an Alan Moore allusion because all love is a vendetta?) sound melancholy but contain some of the most hopeful expressions of love: “I feel myself heading out into the open/Set my heart in perpetual motion” and the word “again” on loop, reminding us all that we’re on this high-to-low journey for life.

My favorite song on the album comes from “I Promise I’ll Try to Give You All of My Love”, which goes against form to deliver both happy lyrics and an upbeat vibe. It’s about allowing yourself to fall in love again, despite the possibility (dare I say, inevitability) of pain. The line ‘Maybe there’s a place waiting for us after all/Maybe there’s a place we’ve all been before’ burns the message loud and clear, but the track’s title betrays how, even when love seems at its most positive, no one can guarantee that our tries will be successful. 

“Two Summers” serves as the emotional heart of the album, reminding us that the world we create in one June may be completely gone by the next. This song is the quintessential joy and curse, the falling in and falling out, the happy and the sad. It opens with an unnamed presence threatening to “swallow me whole”, only later to reveal that presence as “a big dumb lovestruck feeling”. It sounded so scary! But it’s innocent… although, of course, love never is. 

Possum is what it feels like to be in love, to say nothing of being alive. Sunbeam Sound Machine deserves a lot of credit for what they pulled off, capturing human frailty at its most groovy. We’re always rocketed between two worlds, in love and in not, appearing to be one thing while existing as another. 

We’re all pretending to be something we’re not in order to prevent pain, which is what playing dead is all about. Until that is, we must rise and try our hand at living again. 

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