Sugar Stems - Can't Wait (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Sugar Stems

Can't Wait (2013)

Dirtnap Records

Are you looking for an album that will see you through the summer months and beyond? Something that is refreshing, easy to listen to yet as far from being bland as is possible? Then the Sugar Stems' sophomore long player Can't Wait is for you, as it is awash with an infectious catchiness and guaranteed to put a smile on your face. There can be no denying that there is a 1980s feel to this, with similarities to the Bangles whilst adding in a touch of mid-'90s Squeeze along with the occasional hints of the girl groups of the 1960s, all combining to provide an effective pop record.

The opening two tracks, "Greatest Pretender" and "Like I Do," have both already been released as singles and as such get the album off to a strong start, with the former opening with a nice bit of a country twang on the guitar. But there is a noticeable step up for the title track as it immediately becomes a musical earworm. Not surprisingly, the Sugar Stems follow this up with a more sedate offering in "Landline Static," with a Susanna Hoffs-esque vocal quality to it justifying the comparison to the Bangles, although Betsy Heibler's voice has enough of its own virtues to stand out.

"Get To You" is more of a joint vocal affair with Heibler taking a slight back seat and Drew Fredrichsen moving up from backing vocals to add his own subtle charm. This track brings to mind the kind of cadence that Chandeli'ers use to keep a restrained yet uptempo feel in some of their songs and that approach works the Sugar Stems as well. Other highlights include "Told You So" and "Love You To Pieces," in which the upbeat and catchy mode doesn't hide the slightly bleak (the former) or morbid (the latter) sentiments of the songs. Proceedings end on a high note, with "6 Feet Under" bringing back some of the power that is to be found more openly on the opening three tracks and it leaves me with a sense of needing to start the album all over again.

This is power pop that places the emphasis more on the pop than the power and Can't Wait contains some very good songs based around some strong melodies, with equally good (and occasionally dark) lyrics thrown in for good measure; all of which highlight the step up from the debut long player Sweet Sounds Of The … . Betsy Heibler's voice is certainly the initial focal point when listening to the Sugar Stems, but it's on repeated plays that the backing vocals of Fredichsen become more noticeable along with the input of the rhythm section, which at times brings to mind the Shins.