Music News

Sugar High

The dreaded word in "local scene" is, of course, the operative one: "local." In this context, local generally suggests unending mediocrity, the kind of excessive conventionality perpetrated by so many sad-sack groups too busy churning out morbid translations of whatever it is that had a million American kids frothing at the mouth that month to create an alternative to the very crap to which they aspire. Dig it?

Sugar High endures the pangs of being "local," because, really, they have so far managed to slip through the proverbial cracks. Sugar High's members -- singer/guitarist Adrian Evans, bassist Patrick Singleton, drummer Sean Gens, new guitarist Amir Neubach (replacing the recently departed Jason Garcia, whose guitar work figures prominently here) -- have been kicking around this brown/gray landscape in one form or another for as long as the Beatles were together.

What you need to know is that Sugar High's debut full-length, the Bob Hoag/Kevin Scanlon-produced Saccharin & Trust, makes most guitar pop bands these days sound like the stale bits of Dumpster gunk they are. Great American pop predecessors like Shoes, Big Star, and the Rubinoos all figure in, but that's simple compartmentalizing.

Most of the 13 songs on Saccharin & Trust summon a kind of elated melancholy, which pop music -- when it is done well -- should do. All very Arizona; about chasing some suburban longing through the summer twilight, drawn by the same music you listened to when you first started listening and the sweet perfume of some girl you just met and adore, as the first buzz of alcohol is just kicking in.

As a lyricist, Adrian Evans is literate, often contrite, and sensitive enough to be empathetic. He wraps those sentiments in a breathy croon whose reference points fall somewhere between ass-magnet-era David Cassidy and Stephan Duffy.

As far as tube-throbbing pop goes, "Genevelyn" is a song American Hi-Fi would blow up its hi-fi to own; "One Hundred Years to Love You" echoes early Petty and Twilley, all the way down to its perfectly placed sliding double-octave guitar bit on the chorus.

The overtly classic "Turbo Teen" is so power pop that even the hand-claps know that their proper place is at home under the guitar solo. A subtext of untouchable innocence tosses a lyrical curve ball: "Coca-Cola with a cigarette on her patio with her hair still wet/She's the girl with the rocking horse on her blinds/I know her every time."

"Used to Be" cheerily toasts the spirit of the Gin Blossoms, Doug Hopkins (R.I.P.) specifically. It makes sense: Songwriters Evans and Hopkins share similar song sensibilities, like two guys whose delicate childhood ears were bent into identically odd shapes by many of the same records growing up. "Bad in Slow Motion" sports a deceptively cynical, sardonically perceptive lyric about a bittersweet friendship held together by mirthful late-night drinking. The lyric is set against a lofty hum-along that uses "Keep Shinin' On" as a drinking metaphor.

The songs take grown-up themes and place them in the heart of a boy, all in the context of big-chorusy pop tunes. It's a balance that requires a command of craft, particularly if said themes are colored with such pop references as Ava Gardner, Telecaster guitars, cigarettes, and a Nick Lowe allusion cheekily followed by "You were kinda cruel." There's the harsh how-did-I-become-such-a-loser-to-wind-up-here reality of having to attend "School on Saturday," which, incidentally, is the metaphor of the week; what better way to tell your lover he/she sucks than with a "You're like school on Saturday"?

What's great about Saccharin & Trust is that the band members don't always sound like the most proficient musicians; what carries the album is the necessary stuff, that which has carried any great guitar-pop record over the years: exuberance, heart and great songs sung by guys who've ditched all else in life to do this.

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Brian Smith
Contact: Brian Smith