By: Kevin Scott
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Released on February 25, 2015 via
This sixth release by Brooklyn’s Black Sugar Transmission sounds a bit like Prince on acid, but then again, it also sounds a bit like The Human League with Nick Oliveri on bass. Andee Blacksugar (may not be his real name alert!), the self-confessed post-punk glamour queen who leads the project is like Brian Molko’s more fun brother – he still has that dark undercurrent, but the songs he writes are as full of humour as they are synth bass.
It’s the sort of album you can dance to and rock to at the same time, something that shouldn’t really be possible, but somehow is, though over the course of its 12 tracks, it can become exasperating listening to same conflicting influences spilling out the speakers.
There are places where it is great fun however. ‘Violent’, which deals about police brutality in Ferguson, is a belting tune – pop-punk track that combines new-wave New York with a sharp and catchy melody. “Don’t make me violent / don’t make me violent again.” Now there’s nothing clever, or even sensible about promoting violence in music, but Blacksugar always manages to stay curtain side of the pantomime. There’s no real threat here – it’s all playful.
‘The World is Yr Ashtray’ is great – with a deep, almost droning bass leading off while what sounds like a triangle is being belted about in the background along with about 40 other pieces of percussion and Blacksugar’s howling vocals.
‘Taboo’ somehow manages to sound like The Polyphonic Spree with a Jackson Five bassline. Even by the third of fourth listen you’ll be trying to work out why it works: imagine a cocktail made with ingredients that really shouldn’t complement each other, but in the end tastes like the best party you’ve ever been too. Black Sugar Transmission sound a bit like that.
There are tracks which falter – ‘Between the Notes’ doesn’t have the energy of the tracks either side of it and withers as a result, and lyrically it can be a bit immature – see “Pray for peace / but God loves war” or “trolls on parade / mock what you’ve made / but they are afraid“, both from ‘God Loves War’.
The production (also from the impressively talented Blacksugar) is sharp, carefully allowing the myriad influences poured into the album to find their own place and in that space creating something that sounds actually pretty original. It’s a divisive album, and ultimately it moves about too much to really find its place. But, for glittery pop with a dark heart, Violent Muses can never be described as anything but entertaining.