The South Carolina Music Guide
Album Reviews

SUSTO – & I’m Fine Today

Since April of 2014, the name ‘SUSTO’ has become synonymous with local indie-rock band and up and coming all-stars from the city of Charleston, SC.  The actual definition of Susto is: a cultural illness primarily among Latin American cultures.  It is described as a condition of being frightened and chronic somatic suffering stemming from emotional trauma, or from witnessing traumatic experiences lived by others.  Justin Osborne, creator and front man for the band SUSTO, spent nearly half a year in Cuba where he was heavily influenced by the culture and different types of music. He loved it so much he almost stayed.  Pressured by musical colleagues and friends both State-side and abroad, Justin returned to embark on what has grown into a national music success and will soon release a second SUSTO album: ‘& I’m Fine Today.’

At first glance, the cover artwork of ‘& I’m Fine Today’ gives a somewhat psychedelic appearance that is almost playful with snakes, rainbows and Peruvian rainforests.  This colorful album cover is actually the artwork of the late acclaimed Peruvian artist and Ayahuasca (a hallucinogenic alkaloid used by Amazon Indians) Shaman, Pablo Caesar Amaringo.  The snakes, which have become intertwined with the iconography and message of the band, represent fertility or a creative life force which can be seen in the constant touring and accumulation of fans across America.  Rainbows are a sign of calm and new beginnings after a storm, as well as the symbol of the LGBT community and social progress in general (which SUSTO, the band, fully support).  The sophomore effort of SUSTO is like putting music to the philosophy of self-realization after an awakening – be it from psychedelics, a spiritual journey, or from being stricken to the core from witnessing mankind’s self-deprecation through the destruction of his environment.

Sonically, ‘& I’m Fine Today’ dances with the 1970’s in a refreshing way, not to be confused with many of the jam bands associated with the era.  “Far Out Feeling” begins the album with a 1970’s groove, melodic with strings, horns and trippy guitar work telling a story of surviving the vicissitudes of life while coming into one’s own.  Backing vocals blend in somewhat reminiscent of ABBA or Boney M.  “Hard Drugs” shifts to an Americana swing with subtle references to Vietnam and bringing the listener to a 1970’s landscape with a Rufus Wainwright quality.  “Waves” is a track which literally has waves of rock, punk, grunge, psychedelia, blues and folk with seemingly influences of the likes of Paul Westerberg (The Replacements) and maybe David Lowery (Camper Van Beethoven/Cracker).  The listener can really understand the story of the inception, mindset and general intention of SUSTO with unapologetic tracks like ‘Gay in the South’ when the band is empathizing with the struggles of people when social progress isn’t on their side and answering with lyrics like “I know now Hell is nothing but a head space.”  ‘Mountain Top’ opens with an LSD reference and ironically has a tone similar to Fleet Foxes (the band) while mentioning Mt. St. Helen, both from Washington State.

The genre of SUSTO is difficult to pin down but could be broad stroked as “Alternative Rock” but more specifically could be called “Cosmicana” a blend of cosmic sounds and Americana.  The album’s 8th track, ‘Cosmic Cowboy’ clearly paints a picture with the line “I’m a Southern man but I’m an Atheist, I’m a pretty suave kid with tattooed fists.”  ‘& I’m Fine Today’ tells the story of who SUSTO is through haunting and beautiful sounds on tracks like ‘Havana Vieja’ (old Havanva) which sound as Baroque as the nearly 500 year old city itself.  ‘Wasted Mind’ starts with an unmistakable indie feel with soft female backing vocals, fades out then fades back in with a youthful anthem of angst and resolution.  The last track on the album ‘Jah Werx’ opens with the line “I’m Fine Today” with the acceptance that life will sometimes still suck and you have to keep going, regardless of how much Susto you get as an illness or through your headphones.  The mantra “SUSTO is real” speaks for itself.

‘& I’m Fine Today’ will be released January 13th via Missing Piece/Caroline following their New Year’s Eve performance at The Charleston Music Hall.  ‘& I’m Fine Today’ was produced by Wolfgang Zimmerman & Johnny Delaware with SUSTO, engineered and recorded by Wolfgang Zimmerman, mixed by John Collins, Michael Tutor, Stuart Sikes and Wolfgang Zimmerman.

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