Sugar Tradition, “Fragile” (Feel It)
Any aware Detroit rock band operating in the 2020s must feel the burden of the Motor City's daunting musical history. Knowing you're toiling in the shadow of the MC5, the Stooges, SRC, Bob Seger System, the Unrelated Segments, Gories/Dirtbombs, et al. makes you either elevate your game to stratospheric heights or resign yourself to obscurity. The three firebrands in Sugar Tradition—Antonio Keka (guitar/vocals), Kevin Irwin (drums), Arlo Betley (bass)—have chosen the former route. Even cursory listens to their output so far will convince you that they're the real fuggin' deal.
On their 2019 debut album, Green Machine, Sugar Tradition proved they could do more than incinerate your wig with fiery rock & roll. They get seriously funky on “Talkin' Verve,” billow out into exploratory psychedelia on “Green Machine,” and slide into some mellow blues rock on “High Times Rollin' On.” Now with the new six-song More Sugar (clocking in at 14 minutes), Sugar Tradition get down to basics, without the boredom that that implies. At their least interesting, they pay homage to some foundational pioneers, covering Chuck Berry's 1961 single “Come On”—as did another ST hero, the Rolling Stones—with beaucoup fuzz. Speaking of the Stones, the swaggering, piano-laden “Rockin' Baby” recalls them in their fresh-faced, Brian Jones days.
Better, though, is “I'm Set Free” (not a Velvet Underground cover), an amphetamine-laced stormer with some of the hottest unison “oh”s in modern rock. “Don't Leave Me” is another ass-ablaze rock avalanche that shares DNA with the Seeds' unstoppable “Evil Hoodoo” and the MC5's revolutionary noisefest “Kick Out the Jams.” My fave here is “Fragile.” At once rampaging and mesmerizing garage rock in the Chocolate Watchband vein, the song's powered by one of those primal guitar/bass riffs that you want to roll on forever. In this way, “Fragile” resembles Patti Smith Group's phenomenal version of the Byrds' “So You Want to Be (a Rock'n'Roll Star).” The song eventually changes keys and then spills outside the confines of its rigid structure, with Keka's feral screams and searing guitar solo carrying it to the runoff groove.
Sugar Tradition prove that it's possible to be in thrall to rock history without sounding like stilted re-enactors. Instead, they infuse some of the most tried-and-true rock moves with an outsized gusto, fortified by their keen understanding of the unslakable id and irrepressible intensity that sizzle at the core of no-bullshit rock. Sugar Tradition don't care about innovation (as their name implies), but their commanding use of distortion, indelible riffs, and unharnessed energy makes that a moot point. More Sugar serves as a life-affirming display of young men flaunting peak gutsiness, bolstered by a PhD in rockology.
Sugar Tradition perform on November 1 at Belltown Yacht Club, plus on November 2 at Salmon Bay Eagles Lo, November 3 at Sunset Tavern, and November 5 at Salmon Bay Eagles Lo as part of Freakout Festival.
Green-House, “Desire Path” (Leaving)
The LA ambient group Green-House—Olive Ardizoni and Michael Flanagan—make music for plants... and if humans like it, too, that's a bonus. If you're thinking Green-House's sound has roots in Mort Garson's Plantasia, you've deduced correctly. But you don't have to be a botanist to appreciate either artist's work. All you need is an ear for soft sonics and an appreciation of the greatest hits of field recording: water, wind, and birdsong—all of which are woven into the fabric of Green-House's new album, A Host for All Kinds of Life.
The tracks on their 2021 debut album, Music for Living Spaces, hover between miniaturist art pop and sweet-natured ambient. “Bird of Paradise” is the pinnacle of this fusion. There's a delicateness and precision to the compositions here that suggest a love of the environmental music that enjoyed a vogue in Japan during the 1980s, as heard on Light in the Attic's Kankyō Ongaku box set, among other places. Fans of the UK group Plone may also gain pleasure from Green-House's winsome melodies and bedroom-tronic timbres.
A Host for All Kinds of Life examines the idea of “solastalgia,” a kind of yearning and anguish people that feel in response to environmental change and disruption. You can probably relate. For an ambient LP, its tracks are relatively concise, with the longest clocking in at 4:47 and most coming in at under four minutes. In this regard, they're once more following Garson's approach on Plantasia.
“Coquina” begins the album in impossibly fragile and pretty ambient mode, with a striated, flute-like top melody. Gradually, lightly tumbling piano, synth smudges, and what sounds like xylophone tinkles augment a piece that should be soundtracking footage of gently swaying ocean-floor flora and fauna. At once feathery and ponderous, “Luna Clipper” is possibly the most expansive and Garson-ian track here. Pure enchantment courses through its stems and roots. “Far More Other” hits like some sort of holy strain of Muzak™ while the pacific and poignant “Everything Is Okay” bears a mutedly optimistic melody and ends with a touching phone message from Ardizoni's mother.
“Many Years Later” induces a coziness of the mind, a false sense of security. Here's where you truly realize that Green-House's music is devoid of darkness and edge, but that's fine; plenty of other artists—ambient and otherwise—flood the market with that stuff. “Desire Path” purveys a deeply moving melody that has the muted contemplativeness and blurred wonder of Boards of Canada. Extremely soothing, the track made my eyelids heavy with calm and gratitude. You can also hear subliminal traces of Angelo Badalamenti's Twin Peaks theme, “Falling”—always a welcome thing. You can hear Green-House perform these tracks and more at Rainier Arts Center on November 12, as part of the Floating series of ambient concerts.