Friday, September 5, 2014

FIRST IMPRESSION: Sugar Stems – Only Come Out at Night

Where the hell did these folks come from???  Milwaukee apparently!  Releasing what is hands-down the finest power-pop album of the year thus far, this five-some comes careening out of the gate on a wave of pure sugar and adrenaline that (other than acoustic closer “Million Miles”) barely lets up over 39 minutes.  Fizzy, fuzzy, big and buzzy, the band crafts perfect pop songs that sound not too dissimilar to the sadly-overlooked What Made Milwaukee Famous (a band that inexplicably hailed from Austin, TX) – nearly every song is overflowing with hooks, passion and the gale force voice of lead singer Betsy Heibler. 

Heibler’s voice, equal parts Belinda Carlisle sexiness and Jenny Lewis cool, jumps out of the speakers on songs like opening barnburner “Baby Teeth” and late album highlight “Elm Tree Eulogy”.  A force of nature in and of itself, she is ably supported not only by the rest of the band (special mention goes to newbie Andy Harris on keys and organ) but by the sturdiness of the songs.  The best stuff here is as indebted to early-80s California new wave as it is 60s girl groups – “Sun Rise, Sea Change” could quite seriously be mistaken for a lost Go-Gos jam – and there ain’t a stinker in the bunch!  If movie studios start remaking late-90s teen comedies, the title track here would serve as the perfect song to play over the title credits.  Bop your head, swivel your hips, put on your scuffed Chucks and give yourself over to the most joyous record of the year.  

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