Being a band from Athens is at best a mixed blessing. On one hand, if your band can squeeze into the crowded local scene and get some positive buzz, the town’s reputation will hold up its end of the deal. On the other, unless your band is as vastly divergent from the “Athens scene” as a group like Harvey Milk, there’s almost no way that the stratospheric bar that exists in the South’s cradle of indie rock will ever be cleared. R.E.M. set it impossibly high over 20 years ago, and no musical niche has gone unexplored. It’s into this perfect storm of expectations that Dead Confederate launches its sophomore album, Sugar.
While Athens seems due to produce another big group, Dead Confederate misses the mark, as it is less a band and more a collection of ideas and influences that theoretically should make a good band. Instead of creating something distinct and interesting, however, Dead Confederate ends up sounding like a bunch of other, better bands for a couple of minutes at a time. It’s easy while listening to Sugar to pick out riffs that resemble My Morning Jacket crossed with everything from Nirvana to Jesus and Mary Chain. Though the band does an admirable job of stringing the sounds together, at no point does the whole cohere into something that rises above tribute. The tendency toward homage at the expense of creation is underscored by the fact the album’s high point is provided by a J Mascis guitar solo. His work on “Giving It All Away” gives the song a visceral impact that is lacking elsewhere on the collection. The other songs, though competent, are interchangeable.
It’s unfair to saddle Dead Confederate with the burden of the entire Athens tradition, or look for it to be anything other than a band making a record. But Sugar would have been much more interesting if these guys had focused on that instead of trying to be five or six bands at once.
Sugar is the second full-length from Athens-based Dead Confederate. Judging by the album's lead single, "Giving It All Away," the band has taken a lighter turn by replacing some layers of guitar murk and melodramatic emoting with some lighter rhythms and an airy approach to the songs. However, a guest spot by J. Mascis, production by veteran John Agnello (Sonic Youth, the Hold Steady) and a promo video where the band talks briefly about the new songwriting process before rapping in detail about drinking games should be an indication that the members of Dead Confederate will still hold true to their rawk roots.
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