When faced with a daunting challenge, such as writing an album review for a genre that you are generally not a fan of, what do you do? Do you simply bash the album because of your lack of fondness for the style (the easy way)? Or do you try your damnedest to gut through it (the arduous way)? Well, to be honest, the whole shoegaze, dream pop genre is not my favorite. But I have plowed forward with the Sunshine Factory’s Sugar, and been rewarded.
There is no doubt in my mind that the Sunshine Factory have made a killer shoegaze album with Sugar. It weaves a tapestry throughout, never truly peaking into a great cacophony of noise. For a band from Alabama to sound like a London band circa 1991 is quite a great accomplishment, considering the geographic difference and the nineteen year difference. The Sunshine Factory are a simple trio of Ian Taylor (guitars, tracking, vocals, lyricist), Sally Robertson (bass, vocals), and Mathew Hendrich (drums), but they make the noise of a huge force.
Rising out of the nothing, opener “Down” provides the liftoff for the journey. With its haunting vocals and circular guitar figure, the track yields surprising results in its heavy hitting chorus. Because the vocals are hidden deep in the mix the lyrics are almost indiscernible, but that might be the point. “Smile” jumps right in — no build up here. An English sounding riff that comes off like something Noel Gallagher could have written when he was on good drugs begins the track. Taylor’s vocals are a little easier to hear, and his voice is actually far more emotive than to be expected from a genre that is mostly focused on looking at one’s shoes. “Head Becomes a Tomb” is another droney classic. With its kaleidescope guitar tracks infusing the track with a more psychedelic feel and Robertson’s shimmering background vocals, the songs is a peak in an album actually short on them. “Don’t Fall Asleep” sounds very derivative in its simple jangly guitar riff. “You are more beautiful than the morning” is an actual lyric from this track, that represents a more pop approach, rather than the bury and seek approach of the first half of the album.
“My Bon Ami” starts with a simple acoustic riff and some accordion for good measure before continuing the more pop approach. Taylor slides into falsetto here, which is a nice touch. The song does have a very nice little instrumental bridge, which shows that the band is willing to tackle their music from a different approach to fit the song. Here it works, with this sweet little gem of a track. “Twisted and Clover” is back to the swirl and slide of the shoegaze side of the band. Its incessant hammering and squeal is actually very well done, and the craft of the album is starting to show. “My Sugar Cane” opens with a keyboard squelch and some more buried vocals, but it builds to a second peak on the album and actually turns into a great showcase for the band at their most rocking. “Sugar Sister” begins with a tracked guitar figure and includes some backwards tracking as well, almost to make sure the band gets their psychedelic bonus points. But buried beneath all that is a truly haunting and sweet melody. “Deeper Look” wraps it all up with a crunch of guitars, and a similar circular riff as the opener “Down”.
Taking on a release from a genre that isn’t up your alley can truly be a challenge, but no doubt, the Sunshine Factory’s Sugar is a hell of an album that reveals further treasures buried in the mix with each listen. Now, maybe, just maybe, I can do my damnedest to like My Bloody Valentine. Thanks, Sunshine Factory!