Red Sugar is the audio version of those visual collages that present themselves through erasure and concealment. Let’s say someone takes an original line drawing and then attacks it, scrubs here, sharpens there, glues a twig in the corner, and replaces areas of pencil with ink or paint. Ruth Rosenthal’s voice, reciting her lyrics, is that original drawing, and the wear is sometimes forced from the outside, sometimes provided by the poet herself when she switches from English to Hebrew or French, or puts on a slangy accent in “Omaha”, or decides to hiss the word stttimulate. The tone is humane, cynical, and doomed. In track four the sun goes out. “Building history from lost memories”, she says in “Tea & Lies with Theodor” and her own voice over her utters: “Butter cookies”. “Goodbye, goodbye”, she creaks at the end of “Y”, and while there’s another quick, abortive track after that, “Goodbye, goodbye” feels like the album’s natural terminus. Goodbye, goodbye, and we know that nothing good will happen to you. You’ll be erased, you’ll suffer loss. Exhilarating, this bleakness.
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