Reading, Writing and Arithmetic – The Sundays (1990)

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic album cover
Reading, Writing and Arithmetic album cover

There was a time shortly after college where I worked a dead-end part-time job in a mailroom for a major credit card processing center. It was boring and monotonous work, but allowed me a chance to listen to music as machines hummed in the background – spitting out Sears and Discover card bills.

The work was far from where I saw myself in school as a designer for some downtown agency and for anyone else it might have created real gloom. I simply used it as an excuse to dwell in melancholy. During such moments. the simulated sad soundtrack that was my mix tapes would inevitably land on the occasional song by the Sundays.

By 1991 the London via Reading, England based quartet was the darling of the indie rock scene. Produced by the band with Ray Shulman, Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, named for the band’s hometown was an impressive debut. Their somewhat light breezy hooks and delicate rhythms connected with fans of The Smiths, while not offering any of the sarcasm or perverse wit.

Despite a rather sad overall tone, Harriet Wheeler’s voice was always light and floaty (if not always cheery), in much the way the dreamy sounds of the Innocence Mission defined a whole scene of unplugged melancholy. Many of the songs were mid tempo and contemplative as dream pop usually is. Nearly all of them were written by the band’s guitarist David Gavurin.

The Sundays scored hits with The Smiths-like jangle of “Here’s Where the Story Ends”, “You’re Not the Only One” and “My Finest Hour” . In their native England Reading, Writing and Arithmetic reached #4 on the album charts. Over here it cracked the top 40 and was featured often on the growing Modern Rock format in America. My favorite track “Joy” featured an interesting rhythm against a syncopated guitar. It was the kind of song that broke the casual mid tempo vibe of an almost sleepy record.

With a sound nestled somewhere between the Cocteau Twins and The Cranberries, The Sundays were the perfect sound for the time. For me, the optimistic gloom of their classic drums, bass and guitar sound was just the thing to get me through another day in the mail room. Fortunately the mail room job would not last too long beyond the band’s second release Blind that came a few years later.

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