There are some artists that you just can’t ignore. Often, it is the ones who are thriving in the midst of their local underground scene, waiting to emerge into the national gaze with force – and Salford’s synth-punk outfit Sugarstone are just that band. Appropriately named, the quartet blend the sweet with the solid, combining sharp, earworming melodies with an industrial grit and unrelenting rhythmic force. In recent times, audiences have been somewhat startled by their live performances. There has always been a thumping danceability to their recorded sound, reminiscent of the popping 80s new wave anthems however, their intense live aura is a whole different beast to the performative power pop of their early tracks such as ‘Angel Boy’ and ‘Tiger Reach Out’.
Now, their debut EP, ‘SUCKER’, has completely changed this, delivering a growling four-track onslaught of synth-infused alt-rock mayhem that captures their live energy and lives up to the fierce reputation that their slew of local gigs with the likes of Kid Kapichi, The Blinders and LIFE have earned them.
Guitarist and vocalist George Miller explains the reasoning for this long awaited sonic shift. “I think we’ve grown up a lot in the last year. It’s been a tough few for everyone hasn’t it. We’re not apologising for the music now, or trying to fit into one style and I think that comes with time and confidence within the band. We’ve also become a lot more of a ‘live act’ so we always have that in our minds when writing and recording now”.
As soon as you are met with the first few thumping percussive hits of opening track ‘Author Is Now Dead’ you can tell that Sugarstone mean are not messing around. They commented themselves that “Author Is Now Dead touches on the notion that once something has been written, it then belongs to everyone and therefore no-one. It’s the first track on ‘SUCKER’, and so invites the listener to make their own judgment on what the song, and the ep as a whole, means to them”.
Indeed, the track sets the tempo for the EP. The attack-minded spoken word vocal style is emphasised by the almost metallic crash of the heavy riff; every syllable elevated into a raw sonic hit to produce a poetic punk stomper.
However, it is not until the suitably named high-octane ‘That’s Intense’ arrives that you truly get a grasp on their unique electro-alternative concoction that combines the dramatic retro tones of fellow newcomers VLURE with the harsh, electronic energy of Strange Bones. The dense electronic buzz of ‘That’s Intense’ brings a sinister swagger to the entire atmosphere. This industrial, dark tone is reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails and adds a slightly grimy, retro feel to their truly modern persona. It is as if the band have discovered some long lost electronics left to rot in the sewers beneath Manchester that they have somehow sparked up, only to find that they have a mind of their own. These heavy synth elements, in fact, do have their own distinct bitter, twisted personality that they pour into their sound, giving an infectiously super-charged, dance-inducing injection to every track.
The EP’s closer ‘Happiness Is Hard To Find’ is the most memorable of them all. Songwriter and vocalist Joe O’Haire explains that “lyrically the song is a cynical, introspective commentary on how I was feeling in the midst of the two strangest years in my life, so far. And like I said about the choruses feeling somewhat happy, the lyrics are definitely not. It’s a juxtaposition”.
It is this perpetual conflict within the song that builds so much explosive tension. The drum patterns stand out early on, providing an off-kilter rhythm to match the abrasive lyrical mindset. Then the huge chorus arrives with the joint vocals working to full effect, creating a raucous delivery of the title line “happiness is fucking hard to find” that just begs to be screamed back. The bounding build up towards the end of the track distills all their live energy into a ferocious finale that explodes into an aggressive release of euphoria. It is as if the band are dancing in the face of depression; drawing the darkness out of your mind like a sonic anesthetic. You may have to face a fierce whirlwind for the duration of this new EP, but you can guarantee you will feel truly alive on the other side.
Sugarstone’s ‘SUCKER’ EP is out now.
Words: James Booton