Dead Confederate - Sugar

Two years have passed since Dead Confederate’s successful debut Wrecking Ball, and much has changed for the Georgia five-piece – a band that has had but one direction since forming back in high school. The initial burst of favourable press has meant a whole heap of touring, notably with long-respected bands like Dinosaur Jr and The Meat Puppets, which they claim has given them a new appreciation of the underground scene of the 80s/90s. They’ve certainly wasted no time in snapping up producer John Agnello (the man responsible for working on both Dinosaur Jr’s Farm and Beyond albums), but what doesn’t quite fit here is Dead Confederate’s sudden change-up to a more mainstream sound. Vocalist-songwriter Hardy Morris has claimed that “it was a very natural progression to do something a little different” and the opening tracks is proof enough that they’re happy to put their new ideas in bold and up front.

‘Into The Dark’ and ‘Father Figure’ show that, whilst they’ve retained the driven nature of the songs, they’ve also cut away any loose ends, making them more direct, denser and sharper. Morris’ has done the same with his vocal, employing less dying croak and octave drops, stringently sticking to popping off his syllables on the beat. Suddenly, instead of kicking up memories of Nirvana and Sonic Youth, they’re now more redolent of bands like The Dandy Warhols and Black Lips. The smallest of adjustments and they are suddenly connecting with a whole new generation.

Just the sub-five minute track running times are evidence enough that they are now determined to keep everything concise. ‘Quiet Kid’ is a fine example – where before the rambling nature of it would have got away from them, here they cut the feedback and fuzz dead at four minutes. Tracks like ‘Semi-Scene’ and ‘Giving It All Away’ are keen, demanding anthems with hooky lyrics, matching snare rolls and neat extras (a spot of Hammond organ here, a dab of Madchester tambourine there) – the equivalent of ankle-biting, yappy dogs that seem to demand constant attention. Standing out like a sore thumb, the stunningly dark, loping build of ‘Sugar’ would have fitted neatly into that much-vaunted debut, and as the album highlight, it represents the perfect example of the why the collection of well-meaning changes they have made has simply sterilised all that was great about the band. End of the day, this sophomore album is a perfectly decent alt-rock record, but it importantly lacks both individuality and ingenuity and that’s the sad truth.