“Be A Light” started the album with a dense soundscape of distorted synth and guitar tones meshing next to a steady bass beat. All of this was joined by singer, Martha Meridith’s breathy, and musically catchy vocals. The drums kicked in, and we’re gently rocked towards something that sounded like a mashup of Boards of Canada and Jet’s Overhead. And that was just the intro. There are times when it’s tough to sum up albums—so much to say, so little words to work with—and that was the case for me with Sugar.
The band defined their music as “electro-organic dream pop,” and I hear what they meant: the rhythm, structure, and overall musical impression is electro, but it was played with guitars, a bass, synth, and drum samples. “Just Yet” came next, and started with a driving synthesiser processed with tremolo (the on/off of musical effects), complimented by reverb-drenched vocals, and shoe-gazing guitar tones. If you’re into music production, check this album out. It sounds gorgeous: catchy energetic pop, ambient textures everywhere, sweet guitar and bass riffs, and the music itself keeps your attention throughout. I could see For Esmé on the same bill as Tycho.
As for the lyrics, they were generally introspective, intimate, and thoughtful. “Franny & Zooey” began with an intro that reminded me of something eerie Marilyn Manson would have created on The Golden Age of Grotesque. The song then took a turn, and veered to the pop zone using major (happy) sounding chords. Everything broke down at the bridge; it was a combination of Martha’s vocals accompanied by a vibraphone, and the odd drum sample punctuating her lines. Dense, lush auditory textures were brought in through harmonised vocals, and then the song died before it came back to life with the cheeriest guitar solo I’ve heard this week.
If you like Beck’s latest Grammy-winning record, Morning Phase, you’ll enjoy the intro of “Selwyn,” a track that maintained that delicate feeling from beginning to end. Bonobo also came to mind while listening to this song, thanks to the violins played by Mika Posen mixed alongside massive synthesisers. “You” was a fun, dance-y electro-pop tune, in the same vein as Clor. A surprise bluesy guitar solo freshened up this electro mix with a musical cross-pollination that I love. Speaking of musical cross-pollination, a choir sang its way into the track, and added a Gregorian chant kind of feel to the electro-pop tune.
I need to re-state that the production on this record is stellar. I can imagine the amount of time it took to mix in the various riffs, vocal lines, harmonies, effects, effects, and more effects. I’m sure this was a labour of love for the band, mixing engineer/producer, James Bunton, and mastering engineer, Joao Carvalho. The next song, “The Same Thing,” began as a slow ballad filled with melancholy, and then was lifted by synthesiser riffs that seemed to be made of rainbows and bubble gum. The second last track approached lounge-y, R&B territory with a silky smooth bass line, and oh-so-soft synth pad sounds. Titled “Make A Sound,” it also incorporated an 80s pop feel, while the production introduced that lower octave vocal sound used by Purity Ring, as well as other harmonised vocals that I suspect are auto-tuned. This created that mechanical tightness from the vocalist’s performance. Sugar ended with “In The Night Air,” a calmer song that closed the album beautifully.
Written by Dave Tone
*edited by Danielle Kenedy