Sugarpuss are a band I’ve had the pleasure of watching change shape, size, colour and consistency over the last few years. From day one they were tight, well-oiled, hard working – I saw them at the Rosemount Hotel, looking like they were keeping the Hemp apparel store in business, doing the psych-rock power-trio thing – but since then, they’ve fostered an increasingly complex, intriguing, multifaceted sound. The new EP “Psychotic Teenage Supermodels,” featuring prime cuts culled from a would-be album recording stint, in many ways summarises that exploration, while pointing promisingly towards the future. What we hear is a fairly eclectic record that in the band’s words is “as unpredictable as a common psychotic teen.” And yes, it twists and turns, but ultimately, this a pretty cohesive move, marking a clear (if slightly oddball) path that the band seems keen to tumble along.
Sugarpuss have – for the most part – shed their larger-than-life, straight-faced, prog-rocky exoskeleton and emerged from it a delightfully wonky pop band. Where before they may have brought to mind Led Zeppelin, Yes and Black Sabbath, they now more readily evoke the spirit of the Dandy Warhols, Beck, Eels, Flaming Lips and Super Furry Animals. What’s really interesting, mind you, is the way these two spheres of sound interact, blurring together in a potent and eccentric realm. This may just prove to be Sugarpuss’ calling card. But enough speculation. Let’s investigate the songs.
First puppy in the litter, the WAM Song-of-the-year winning “Falling Out Of Love,” is the record’s most direct expression of a new poppier – yet more crooked – direction. After a weird into of throat noise, it riffs, grinningly, through a garagey 4-chord progression before diving into a brief, handclap-laden verse, followed by “la las” and a ruthlessly efficient chorus. If it sounds contrived, that’s because it is – it’s a tune that gleefully foregrounds its own pop formula, relishing each classic trope and ramming it unforgivingly up against the back of the next one. The clincher is in the lyrics: for all its sugary (HAH!) intensity, this is, as John Lydon would say, Not a Love Song, not even in the way that some love songs are sad and about loss or confusion. No, this is a fluorescent two minutes of deliberately unsubtle song-writing imbued with the rather insensitive sentiment that “falling out of love is so much fun.”
Probably the EP’s best song comes in at track 2: “Drinking Alone.” It has a unique sound within the record, fusing those candy-pop “ooh oohs” and call-response vocals with a more complex bit of tunecraft, great melodies, and excellent downer vibe lyrics: “Called up my mama / and asked her if we could be friends” or “Could go to a party / but everyone hates me.” It’s also very “catchy”, but not in a forced way, which is what I feel like that word usually implies. No, everything here is as it should be, making for a comfortable but engaging listen: the recording is fantastic, the arrangement is lean but rich, and it’s just a cracker bit of composition. Yeah, this is great.
The third track here, “Insomnia” takes us back to “classic” Sugarpuss; this is a tune they’ve often finished their sets with when I’ve seen them. It’s a good song, without a doubt; a delicate, thoughtful chord progression weaving around a cloud-like vocal. Angelic choral layers enter the fray and soon the whole thing explodes and melts into a golden psych-rock jam-soup. This is one tune where all those ‘70s rock influences take the front seat, but hey, why not? It’s been a crucial part of the Sugarpuss sound for several years now, and to hurriedly neglect it would feel awkward and unnatural. So “Insomnia” is a welcome inclusion here.
“Masquerade” and “They’re Gonna Close The Planet Down” feel like a natural pairing, and they pop up next, side-by-side; lush yet crunchy chamber pop bleeding out into the sunset. I don’t want to get dramatic or too compare-y whatever, but these two tracks give Tame Impala’s stellar “Lonerism” a run for its money. Which is not to say that Sugarpuss are merely biting the ‘Impala steez. Rather, there are commonalities here that I enjoy noticing – that crumbly, biscuity snare, swirling layers of guitar/not-quite-sure-what, dense harmonies and marvellously woody bass. Importantly, there’s a still a distinct Sugarpuss angle here that will see the tunes outlive any aesthetic du jour.
All of this wraps up with “Place For A Gun,” which by turns evokes “Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots” and the final tracks of “Dark Side of the Moon,” with a little help from Phil Spector maybe. I dunno man. I could try to think of reference points until the sun comes up, but the great thing about “Psychotic Teenage Supermodels” is that Sugarpuss are really starting to hone in on a sound that they can own. Own, and tend to, and cultivate, like a garden bed of healthy vegetables which are a little bit homely, a little bit exotic, but in any case, nutritious and fresh. Listen to this record and all will be revealed. It’ll pay dividends.