Talk Normal Sugarland

[Rare Book Room; 2009]

Styles: “tribal” noise rock
Others: Teenage Jesus and the Jerks, These are Powers, Sonic Youth, early Yeah Yeah Yeahs

Sugarland is a misnomer of an album title if I've ever heard one. Talk Normal don't seem the type you'd want to call "sugar," unless you want your balls ripped off. And ‘sugary’ might be the last word I'd use in describing their music. Indeed, with having released two loud, unforgiving full-lengths (not to mention several EPs), drummer/vocalist Andrya Ambro and guitarist Sarah Register have quickly established themselves as among the noisiest in the populous and frequently excellent female-fronted groups like Marnie Stern and Magik Markers. This album only proves the band's endurance.

Sugarland powers through track after track of heavy guitar squall, with drums prone to sudden pattern shifts and shout-sung Karen O-on-painkillers vocals. Obviously, no-wave serves as a major source of aesthetic inspiration. A lot of their screechy-scratchy guitar parts sound like they're straight from DNA or Teenage Jesus and the Jerks. But while they borrow heavily from the period, this isn't a simple exercise in regurgitation: the lyrics, while still in the generally resentful no-wave spirit, tend much more toward introspection. And rather than just fast-paced, jumpy sonic blasts, Talk Normal also pack the album with drawn-out noise swells and abstract song structures.

No song on Sugarland follows any linear course, but by teasing us with either a particularly crafty drum part or a minimalist melody (which always sticks out amidst their pumping single-note bass lines and distorted cymbal-crashing), Ambro and Register keep the music entirely engrossing. On standout track "In Every Dream Home a Heartache," the quiet synthesized organ melody that dominates its first half (which also happens to be the only melodic part of the album lasting longer than four seconds) drops, as Ambro shouts, "But you blew my mind." She then proceeds to do the very same to the listener.

Talk Normal is a precocious band, and Sugarland excellently shows what they are capable of. They do not hide behind noise, nor do they hesitate to get louder or wilder when appropriate. Even a casual "noise rock" fan can appreciate the album's dense, sophisticated impulses. Clearly, Talk Normal are on the right track, and by developing deceptively simple song structures and coloring them with both a powerful rage and a jarring tenderness, they've also produced a deeply spellbinding album.

1. Hot Song
2. In A Strangeland
3. Bold Face
4. Mosquito
5. Transmission Lost
6. River's Edge
7. In Every Dream Home A Heartache
8. Uniforms
9. Warrior
10. Outside

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