Heartworn, sunnbrella’s time machine. Album Review

Today marks the 6th month anniversary of Heartworn, a beautifully nostalgic yet forward-thinking debut from London shoegazer, sunnbrella. Released on February 24, 2023, Heartworn feels as if it was plucked out of the early house and dream pop scenes and placed into the new context of the 2020s. Its 12 songs comprise a 47-minute modern love letter to the 90s in ways some may see in artists like George Clanton.

Heartworn was my most anticipated release of 2023.

So, obviously, I have some history to unpack. Ever since I first (by a stroke of luck) stumbled upon “It’s Cool” in an Instagram ad circa early 2021, I’ve been absolutely hooked on the sunshine-soaked sounds of sunnbrella. Since then I’ve had the absolute pleasure of meeting him in 2022 during what was nothing short of a fever dream of a night where we caught Yves Tumor & Nine Inch Nails playing at Brixton Academy.

I had the chance to ask David Zbirka about his motivations for the direction on the album. He shared this, “shoegaze, as it is now, has almost been boiled down to a formula- and I wanted to challenge that. I feel like shoegaze at its roots was something exciting and new and I think in that sense I want to return.” He went on to explain his main inspirations for Heartworn saying, “It was a mixed bag of influences- the initial idea was a “Dreamrave” or “Ravegaze” project (shoegaze and dream pop mixed in with 90s rave, trance, house, and jungle sounds).” Zbirka went on to cite some of his influences as my bloody valentine, Slowdive, Yves Tumor, and Jean Dawson.

When I awoke, I went back to patiently spinning tracks like “Pauline” and “Nick Hornby,” waiting to hear what his debut album would sound like. Fortunately for listeners, the ideas unveiled in this project were more forward-thinking than anywhere else in his discography so far.

The album incorporates waves of classic shoegaze and dream pop while bringing in interesting dance and electronic elements. Heartworn manages all of these ideas without ever feeling busy or half-baked, instead, these movements feel authentic and intentional, swirling together into a storm of fresh ideas.

Let’s run through the tracks…

“Fever Dream” dropping in March of 2022 marked the start of the album rollout. With a sleek interpolation of Slowdive’s “Sleep,” “Fever Dream” serves as a portal into the incorporeal world of Heartworn. As we descend through this ethereal opener, we’re taken on a ghostly ride from the eyes of someone letting go and letting themselves get lost in the night. Each time the chorus comes ‘round, we’re thrown out of our bodies. There’s an endless feeling of freedom that comes with Zbirka’s vocal trails. Zbirka also shared that this was the first song recorded for Heartworn, way back in 2019. There is also a Slowed + Reverb version of this track on sunnbrella’s Spotify celebrating 40,000 monthly listeners.

Next, we bolt forward with the second lead single, “Wrong,” whose melodies flow through whirring guitars as if they were a gale of wind. As wispy vocals ride along these streams, we speed through a flurry that ends in flashing guitar lines and driven drum beats. All the while, Zbirka sings about entanglements and his missteps in love. This was an instant favorite for me.

“Polyester” begins with a moment of production magic that disorients the listener before sunnbrella strikes the track up with drums. As we dive through reeling and reminiscing thoughts, fey vocals fill the spaces in between. Zbirka delivers the lines “I still remember what you said / I still don’t know what it was supposed to mean / you’re too young, too innocent / and I’ve got somewhere to be anyway.” Retro synths decorate the track and add little bits of electronica to the composition. Finally, the song explodes into swirly guitars in classic shoegaze fashion- further breaking into a guitar solo within the wild mysticism he creates.

Track 4, “A Week Or So,” is smooth sailing, spilling out through a sea of motion. I hear an influence from The Sundays (amongst other 90s dream pop/jangle pop bands) in this track, namely, the sounds the guitar brings out and the carefree nature of the lyrics. Zbirka sings, “Touche, tune out / Take me for a fool / take me for a fool now / Oh, but I’ll forget your name in a week.” This was the third of the released lead singles and the track that carried me through to the release of the album.

Track 5, “Do This Alone,” has Zbirka repeating the lyrics “(I) cannot do this alone” while ephemeral guitars flourish in the foreground.

Track 6, “No More,” plows through waves of my bloody valentine style shoegaze while letting lyrics float out, “A thorn in my side, a thorn in my side, / I won’t let it grow, I won’t let it grow.” This feels like a hidden track off Loveless.

Track 7, “Defend Urself,” is an awesome left turn on the album that demonstrates Zbirka’s courageous creativity in its opening breakbeat. The track slings around lightning-fast drum beats while it tears through the air it soars through.

On Track 8, “Dovetail,” Zbirka sings its title repeatedly while his vocals fade in and out. Finally, the track breaks, and vaporous synths begin to phase in and out beautifully. This track beautifully blends sunnbrella’s production and his songwriting skills in one of the best cuts from the album.

Track 9 is “Heartworn.” As guitars delicately fall into place on the title track, bells chime in the background. It’s not long before we’re met with a soul-touching approach from sunnbrella as he sings, “Hide yourself from no one else” over and over. This feels like the closest we get to Zbirka. The track unveils a house beat and a screaming shoegaze guitar in its second half; it’s a transparent symbol for the soundscapes Zbirka explores on this album.

Next up is my favorite song off Heartworn, track 10, “Ivy League.” This thing rips. Echoey blasts of guitar flush through the listener’s ears as we hear sunnbrella’s seemingly endless serenade glide overtop. There’s just something so electric about the way that riff takes off down the runway.

Track 11, “House Arrest,” is a slow ascension into consciousness. A tape recording plays in the background. This feels like another intimate and meaningful moment on the album. Intricate drum beats decorate this tapestry of shoegaze while guitars weave images of lightning in the sky, shrieking from afar. The way this track builds is simply mesmerizing and makes it one of my favorite tracks on the album.

Track 12, “Patina XL,” closes out the album with flickering synths that lazily fill the room. This ambient track serves as a cooldown to all of the crazy twists and turns we’ve heard in the past few tracks. It’s a wonderfully calm and tranquil listen that utilizes its minimalism in a maximalist manner. It’s the perfect finish line to a wild ride, that is, Heartworn.

One thing about Sunnbrella is that he is a trailblazer, directing his sound down the road less traveled. Heartworn is an ambitious debut from the London shoegazer that showcases his ability to mold genres, create immersive art, flavorfully experiment, and conjure emotion through vulnerable lyricism. Now might be a good time to announce that sunnbrella’s debut album, Heartworn, is my album of the year for 2023.


Listen to Heartworn on Spotify, Apple Music, or Bandcamp.

this was the album that inspired me to start this website.

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