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Sugar – Beaster EP

May 5, 2011 Leave a comment

Rykodisc, 1993

This review is going to complete my trifecta of Sugar releases that I’ve obtained for a buck or less.  As a Husker Du fan I’ve had a fondness for Bob Mould’s Sugar outfit if only for the heavy, enveloping guitar he likes to inflict.  I’ve also grown to like his vocals even if they always seem to be in the background and recorded lowly.  But there’s only so much Sugar you guys may want to read about, so though I’ve already written about them here and here, I’ll finish up with “Beaster”.

It’s a short release and compiles a few of the extra songs from the “Copper Blue” time period.  Truth is, I believe that I heard this record before I heard anything else by Sugar, so my impression was that Sugar was going to be an extension of Husker Du.  That, ah, is not entirely true.  Instead, Sugar is a rock band that has more of an interest in pop and soft stuff.  Although most of their songs seem to never get really going, “Beaster” has a few numbers that really ramp up the energy.

In my opinion the best song, and I mean the BEST song by Sugar, is “Tilted”.  This song lays you out.  The song’s immediate urgency with the rapid drum intro, as well as its follow through on verse guitar noise, clearly makes it one of the best rockers I’ve ever heard from these guys.  It didn’t even make the album of “Copper Blue”!  I can’t believe it.  You should go find it and listen.

The other songs on the EP are a mixed bag.  “Come Around” is a bit meandering and, unless you like the sound of Mould’s repeated smeared take on the title, may or may not be an enjoyable song for you.  I think it ranks a few tiers below “Tilted” for me, which gives you a little foresight of how the rest of the songs go.  Well okay, “JC Auto” and “Feeling Better” are more typical Sugar songs in that they have a bouncy chorus and an impression of upbeat subject matter.  They don’t really stand out if you’ve listened to a lot of Sugar.  Finally, “Walking Away” is a prettier track that primarily features a synthesizer and really fuzzed out vocals by Mould.  It definitely sounds like an album ender, but with “Man on the Moon” as a well regarded conclusion to “Copper Blue”, this tune didn’t stand a chance.  So here it lies.

A fault that Sugar has with most these songs is that they are much too long.  Except for “Walking Away”, all songs are more than four minutes in length.  “Feeling Better”, which is the longest at 6:22, feels like it is ten minutes long.  Oof.  The worst thing a band could do is assume that their song is so good and catchy that it could just be repeated at length.  “Feeling Better”, as well as the other six minute epics of “Judas Cradle” and “JC Auto”, should have been shaved down to at most four minutes to keep the interest level.  Wasn’t Sugar aiming for more of a pop sound?  Well, they gotta go pop length too.

I’m telling you, you need to hear this song.  Found a pretty good video of it.

Although I could probably find “Copper Blue” at an affordable price these days, as well as maybe write up something else about another one of their countless EPs, I think this is it.  So I want to thank Sugar in a special way.  They have affordably given me a lot of enjoyment and I believe will do so for anyone willing to take a chance on them out of a dollar bin.  I also feel that they should get some sort of prize for their records’ glorious low prices but high rewards.

Therefore, to Sugar, I bestow the first ever Dollar Bin Lifetime Achievement Award.  You guys have fifteen seconds to make a speech.


Dollar Bin Tragedies (or When I Cry in Public): Too Good to Be True Discs

September 3, 2010 Leave a comment

In another episode of gut-wrenching dollar bin shopping, I must remind the reader of a woeful scenario.  This terrible story is about the CDs that have been planted to make a mockery of your hope.  Do not read on if you wish to keep your music shopping optimism intact!

If one has been a regular purveyor of cheap CDs at their favorite music or item dump-off stores, one will eventually develop a scanning ability that enables one to swiftly scour racks of unfortunate music.  It is a bit hard to describe, but one eventually begins to memorize the features of some of the small, rectangular spines of CD cases.  These commonly discarded and forgotten CDs get mentally cataloged, for they are almost expected to be found in every dollar bin one sifts through.

Read more…

Sugar – Besides

July 5, 2010 Leave a comment

Rykodisc Records, 1995

Ever since my belated enjoyment of Husker Du’s “New Day Rising” I’ve tried to give anything a chance that Bob Mould has put out.  This includes Sugar and all of their albums and EPs, for there are still traces of that Husker Du sound in some of the heavier tracks by his post-Du group.  Granted, one has to wade through a lot of lighter pop fare that can sound a bit dated fifteen or so years later, but it’s usually worth it.  When I saw this record in a dollar bin that most likely contained other Sugar albums, I built up enough imagination that convinced me the album contained a secret hard rock tune that Mould felt didn’t fit the Sugar sound.  I guess I should’ve just taken the font size of the band’s name as blatant evidence that, really, this is just Sugar.

I believe that if one is a heavy fan of a band, then that fan is very likely to pick up anything related to that band even if they are songs left off any album.  Sugar is not one of my favorite bands, so there is a risk in listening to castoff songs from a band that may or may not have needed to release a B-side record.  For the non-live tracks on this release, the quality can feel a bit lukewarm.  The first song off of the collection is “Needle Hits E”, which is a dead-on Sugar tune from Mould’s vocal approach to the all encompassing guitar sound.  It is rather shocking that it never made “Copper Blue” or any of the other main releases, for it could easily have been an excellent early track or possible single for any of Sugar’s records.  At least it made this collection, which I guess is sort of like saying it won the Best of the Ignored award.

“Try Again” sounds like a typical slow and emotional Bob Mould pop song, which one either likes for its underlying feeling or hates because it is nearly five minutes too long.  Unfortunately, whether it was through boredom or through some kind of symbolic emotional gesture, Mould chooses to end the serene tune by scratching out some lengthy feedback at the end.  Well, toss that one out.  Punt “Frustration” too because that is a really, really tedious tune to get through thanks to Mould slowing the guitars (and his voice) down to creeping levels.  “Going Home” is as amped up a Sugar as song as one is going to get, and considering it was a b-side for “File Under: Easy Listening“, I think this was a grievous non-inclusion error on the band’s part.  As decent as that record is, “Going Home” would’ve given it a lot more needed edge.  I’m sure there’s some production-related reason that this armchair music producer just wouldn’t understand, though.

Seven of the songs on this collection are live versions of songs found on the band’s studio albums.  While they are appreciated and sound similar to those studio versions, they shouldn’t be the main reason one feels the need to buy a b-side collection.  They turn out to be some of the better aspects of the record, however, since they consist of stronger Sugar tunes like “After All the Roads Have Led to Nowhere” and “Explode and Make Up”.  One small benefit to a listener who hears these live tracks is that he or she will be reminded about their original positive impression of the band.  Unfortunately, since these live tracks consist of nearly half of the tunes on the album, it is obvious that Sugar didn’t have a whole lot of extra, halfway decent originals lying around to include here.  Depends on what you’re looking for, I guess.

This guys knows (and writes) quite a bit about Sugar:  Saltyka and Sugar

The only thing that keeps this release from getting labeled as a Bust is the strength of the live tracks.  If one likes Sugar enough, this record will sound pretty good from beginning until end.  The energetic live tunes are spaced out well so that they keep the listener awake enough despite a few sleepy moments.  There is no way that a prospective Sugar listener should start with this record, as that would obviously be “Copper Blue” and “Easy Listening…” in that order.  For the future Husker Du/Bob Mould fans that may be willing to revisit the Sugar era, this album is worth a spin or two at the end of their discovery period to see if there’s anything to fill any last gaps of interest.

Categories: TheRest Tags: , , , ,

Sugar – File Under: Easy Listening

January 11, 2010 1 comment

Rykodisc Records, 1994

Aside from the usual mainstream failures from various decades that I constantly see exiled to dollar bins everywhere, this disc is one that always seems to catch my eye because there is usually at least one copy available for peanuts at all music stores. It certainly doesn’t wow me with its cover design, which is putridly boring (though perhaps intentionally so given the title). Nope, it’s the fact that Bob Mould of Husker Du was running his solo show with this record that I have known to be a rather enjoyable mid-level rock record. Truth is, not many people these days do or are willing to take a chance on such an unfortunate-looking record. Therefore, I felt it was my music blog writing duty to write something up about this veteran dollar bin resident.

As a fan of Husker Du, I’ve always liked their sometimes poppy but usually noisy repertoire.  When Bob Mould formed Sugar after the demise of that group he opted to go a bit lighter and less chaotic than his former band.  After the relative success of “Copper Blue”, this record continues his foray in catchy pop rock tunes with his usual strength of lyric writing.  Even though Mould’s voice has virtually no style and almost sounds as if he’d rather let the instruments drown him out (which usually happens anyway), it has a nice low level to it so that songs like “Gift” can gradually build in volume from under him without it feeling sudden.  It’s almost as if Mould’s somewhat monotone singing provides the constant while everything else interweaves around him.  Given the fact that people tend to like brazen volume in much of today’s rock acts, this facet of the band may not appeal to everyone and could make some deem it all a bit boring.

Along with “Gift”, there are many great songs on this record that everyone should give a spin at some point.  “Gee Angel” is a fantastic rocker describing what seems to be a love-shocked Mould trying to keep up with his deep appreciation of his love interest.  Then there’s the pining, somewhat stalking “Your Favorite Thing” that has one of the more inviting, colorful riffs I’ve heard from any song.  The bouncy “Can’t Help You Anymore” is quite the mirage in tone after one gives a listen to the opening lines of “I can’t help you anymore/you can’t hurt me anymore”, which is another example of a song that Mould tends to pull off on these Sugar records using contrasting impressions.  The last song, “Explode and Make Up”, is wonderfully titled and sounds subtly volatile about what you might expect.  In fact, I would say that this song sounds like something Mould would have emotionally sung while still in Husker Du, so it’s a great ending to a very good album.

There are a few songs from this record, as well as others, on Grooveshark: Sugar

Listening to this now, I can hear why this record may not have been as popular as it could have been at the time when it was released.  In the midst of the grunge and power rock of the time, Sugar was a band that might have been played as a lighter buffer between harder songs on the radio.  However, even though many songs on “File Under..” have the elements necessary to wrap up listeners in a candied feeling of enjoyment, Sugar was not a flashy, edgy or bombastic enough band to garner the attention that some other big bands were getting.  This might have been one reason why the group disbanded and Mould went truly solo after this record.  Reading around a little more, apparently the record company pressed too many copies of this album expecting it to be a major seller but failed to market it well, thus the glut of copies lying in dollar bins everywhere. There is likely little chance that every copy will eventually be purchased by bargain hunters like us, so we might as well just do what the title says and stick this disc between Celine Dion and Kenny G whenever we find a copy of it. Maybe those easy listeners will finally dig this stuff as much as we do.

Categories: Bargain Tags: , , , ,