Album Review: First You Get The Sugar - "Self Titled"

Review by Mark Laffin

I was intrigued upon reading the bio of Montreal’s latest offering, First You Get The Sugar, and this self-titled debut album. Their bio describes the band’s sound as “a blend of bruising riff rock, pulsating dance rhythms, and oven-baked pop goodness”. Of course, I realize this is not an entirely original formula, but I like the idea. I’m not a fan of pure dance music at all, however, I do enjoy a tasteful fusion of guitar driven rock with danceable beats. I’m also a sucker for a good pop hook. It also seems worth mentioning that many of history’s great bands are comprised of members coming from various, diverse musical backgrounds. These guys’ lineup also boasts a remarkably heterogeneous personnel. With members hailing from all corners of North America, and with an equally diversified appropriation of musical upbringing, this seemed like a surefire recipe for something fresh and exciting.

As it happens, fresh and exciting is not exactly what comes across with this record after all. There is a very definite vibe that permeates this album, and I am impressed with how well the band manages to perfectly conquer it. Fortunately for the band, I am an avid fan of the movie, Back To The Future, and have had a life long fascination with the idea of time travel. Scientifically speaking, I may never get to actually revisit the decade of my birth, but this is likely the next best thing. Although there isn’t really anything here that is going to break new ground, the band does a pretty fantastic job with making an entire album that so perfectly captures the true essence of the cool 70’s. That’s right. Solid Gold.

The first track, “Tell Your Mama” is a fairly promising opener, with a pretty solid groove. An intro with some lush guitar chords and a spacey synth riff gives way to an upbeat, catchy dance-rock tune that mashes a Franz Ferdinand type rhythm complete with a syncopated, funky guitar riff with some overt disco embellishments. Not too bad. The singer’s voice is smooth and harmonious, if not entirely engaging. Also, the song is catchy enough, however, I find myself yearning for that rock guitar to be a bit more daring, and prominent in the mix. The second song, “Sabre Rattlin” is a vaguely fetching, easygoing lilt that is inoffensive and amiable. It’s a pretty straight up beat, with a passable melody that kind of reminds me of a car commercial. It is an exceptionally tight rhythm, and the singer displays an equally impressive vocal range, but beyond its technical merits, the song comes off as just OK. Next up, we have “Disco Volante” which, as the name suggests, shamelessly plunges the band into bona fide disco. There are no guitar riffs to speak of here, just a pure dance beat, and a swirling chorus that wouldn’t sound of out place on a Donna Summer record. The song even has a rather fitting violin melody that gives it that extra layer of retro cheese. Although, I do have to admire the band for so unapologetically thrusting themselves into such a sound, complete with all the appropriate adornments. If this is really what they want to do, they are doing it better than most could. I’m just finding myself straining to hear something more challenging and original. The next song, actually called “Challengers” gives me a spark of hope with a chunky guitar riff that shows promise, however quickly becomes fairly stale with its repetition. It does have a decent overall funk-rock vibe, and the cleverly subtle chorus hook does end up drawing me in somewhat with it’s sharp, deep-in-pocket bass line.

It’s another trip in the DeLorean back to the days of polyester suits and Quaalude fueled orgies with the next track, “Name Drop”. Here we get more stock sounding disco, with an distinguishable P-Funk overtone. The song actually reminds me of what might be the soundtrack to an action sequence from Starsky and Hutch. I will however, give credit to the execution of the impressively delivered falsetto background vocals. Things improve slightly with “Sally Pulled The Fire Alarm”. It has a rather pleasant, upbeat Red Hot Chili Peppers type groove, with some arresting vocal harmonies and jazzy guitar leads. This, along with the following track, are the most contemporary sounding moments offered here. What comes up next is the album’s best song, “You’re Always Wrong”. It is also the album’s slowest number, but has an enchanting brit-pop like feel that has a meticulously striking melody which slowly unravels as the song develops. A pleasant surprise. The final track, “When She Stops” opens with a somewhat awkward modal guitar riff, which is one of the more rock moments on the record. The song actually builds its structure around this said riff in between interludes of jazzy soft-pop fare, as offered previously, to essentially blend itself in with the rest of the record.

After listening to this album, I can’t help but feel like I just awoke from a nap on a lazy Sunday afternoon with the closing credits to Sanford and Son playing on my floor model TV. The overall vibe of this record is so deeply entrenched in smooth 70’s sounds, I feel like it should be available on 8-Track. Not that it would necessarily be a bad thing, but I’m hearing more Gerry Rafferty than the Talking Heads. I understand retro appeal, but it’s hard to see who they’re reaching out to with these discarded sounds from arguably music’s worst decade. Although as I said, I can respect how well the band has managed to cultivate a sound that so completely harnesses the true vibe and atmosphere of mainstream 70’s music.

This album is not bad. It is very well produced, and from a professional standpoint, it is performed exceptionally well. There are also some various moments that I did enjoy. However, I was really hoping for something more provoking and in-your-face. The hooks are there, but some of them feel like they could be more pronounced. It also seems to me like these guys could really have something if they turned things up a bit. I almost get the impression of a band being just a bit too timid to come out with all guns blazing, but it does sound like the potential is there. There is certainly no lack of musical competency, and their songwriting in general also does show promise. In fairness, maybe it’s just the ardent rock fan in me that wants to hear some more bold guitar riffs juxtaposed against these discotheque soundscapes. I would like to dare these guys to be a bit more adventurous in the future, however, if this is the niche they’re seeking to carve out for themselves, they are in fact doing it extremely well. I just don’t know who all is going to be listening.


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