Le Freak... still chic?
Miss the 1970s much? If you have any sort of weakness for the decade of polyester shirts and mood rings, of baroque disco orchestrations and earthy funk syncopation, then here’s a record for you. Sugar & Gold, out of San Francisco, put their considerable instrumental chops to replicating the stylized sensuality of bands like Earth, Wind & Fire, KC and the Sunshine Band, Wild Cherry, and Chic.
Sugar & Gold is the new project of Bay Area songwriters Nicolas Dobbratz and Phillipp Minnig, who in earlier incarnations, have served as Neil Michael Hagerty’s backing band. This is a much tighter, more precise entity, however, than anything headed by Mr. Howling Hex, its snaky grooves anchored by dead-on disco beats and monstrous, yet correct, basslines. “You want to know what we do/Cos we do what we do/On time”, the band croons, falsetto style, in “On Time”, and indeed, there is nothing mushy or approximate about its instrumental style.
The opening salvo of “Do It Well”, a vintage 1970s burst of bass-toned synthesizer, tells you where you’re headed, a dimly lit territory of hip-shifting cymbal slush, porno wah wah and suggestive falsetto choruses. “Burnin’” up next is a breezier, synthier variety of R&B, an easy listening come on, embellished by twitchy wah and ice-cool Rhodes. The single, “Workout,” is the poppiest song on the disc, its arms-in-the-air disco chorus a cross between the Village People and Chic (“Neighborhood”, which follows, is even more Village People-esque). And yet, while all three of these songs could pass without notice on some time-travelling radio station—let’s say 1977—they’re not in the least stiff or referential. The songs feel fresh, even though they borrow from decades-old influences, as if they’d been transported, rather than remembered, then to now.
Sugar & Gold turns a little rougher, a little more primal, late in the album. “Diamond Tears” slinks enticingly on a slow, sexual bass line, its drum track sizzling and popping subliminally in the background. It’s like a down tempo Earth, Wind & Fire cut, or maybe pop-leaning Commodores, slick, smooth and jazzy, but not plastic about it. Album closer “Technical Difficulties” is even better, a smoky reggae bassline underscoring dreamy male-female interplay, and 1960s psych-soul extravagances emerging from the interstices. The song is the disc’s longest at eight minutes, but seems to pass the most quickly.
How much you enjoy this album will depend, in large part, on how well you tolerate the more commercial sounds of funk and disco. The music here is as slick as a polyester disco shirt and as flashy as a Eurotrash lothario. Still if you’ve got any lingering affection for KC and the Sunshine Band, the Gap Band, Rick James, and Chic, you’ll have a ball with this one…a disco ball, that is.