Those who got pleasantly used to a literal interpretation of the Sugar Stems name on the band’s first album, 2010’s Sweet Sounds Of The…, won’t be disappointed with the new Can’t Wait. There’s no confection quite as perfect as “Black And Blue” or “Make You Love Me,” but there are a few gems almost as pretty—and, true to form, every melody is hummable or whistle-able almost instantly. There’s also a significant bitter lyrical taste to several songs on the new album for those who were craving a little drama to temper the fluff.
Make no mistake: musically, things are as bright and cheery as ever, aside from a little extra-crunchy guitar in opener “Greatest Pretender” and a bit of overt melancholy in “Magic Act,” the band’s least upbeat song ever. The next track, “Get To You,” is Drew Fredrichsen’s only crack at lead vocals on the record, and it makes one wonder why that’s the case, except Betsy Borst does have one of the choicest made-for-bubblegum voices you can imagine. These two sweet/sour jaunts are clear highlights of the record, evidence of baby steps toward deeper and more involved songwriting.
The best song by far, though, is a bipolar valentine called “Love You To Pieces,” a track that should launch a thousand mixtapes. The crux of the tune chimes thusly: “Wanna hug and kiss and hold you all night / but sometimes when I do, I wanna kill you at the same time.” The sum of the verses and chorus is the kind of simple brilliance most songwriters don’t even shoot for, for fear of being too simplistic. It’s the only track that strikes that perfect balance, but giddily morbid cautionary tales “Told You So” and “6 Feet Under” come close. Otherwise, Can’t Wait is a mix of patented Sugar Stems pop; none of the hooks are as massive as their best love songs of the past, but there’s less filler and more substance.
(Sugar Stems celebrate the release of Can’t Wait Friday, Dec. 21 at Cactus Club.)