[18 September 2012]
When Suckers released their debut album, Wild Smile, in 2010, it straddled a number of trends that were big in indie-pop at the time: the group was from Brooklyn, there were blips and bubbles of rhythm from other continents, and above all the vocals were sung in falsetto, with a lot of harmonies. Since then, fashions have changed, and Suckers have changed with them: their sophomore album, Candy Salad, relies less on falsetto and uses more straightforward rhythms.
Depending on your personal views on falsettos, this might be good or bad. Sometimes a falsetto conveys everything you want, and maybe things you didn’t even know you needed. But there were times on Suckers’ first record where the falsetto felt too forced, almost comically high. On Candy Salad, the group vocal dynamic remains in place, but more lyrics come across in lower tones. The 2nd track, “Figure It Out”, features shouted, disjointed harmonies that effectively communicate the chaos of trying to do what the title suggests—figure something out. This loose, hoarse yell-singing fits the song; making things work in life, often even seemingly simple tasks, can be a pain.
Suckers can still hit those high notes when they want to. They first climb the scale during on the album’s fourth song, “Chinese Braille”. But it’s later, on the song “Roses”, where Suckers display the power that can come from judicious use of falsetto. “Roses” is a slow, relatively spare piano-ballad. There’s hardly any percussion for most of the song, and the piano just kind of plays, atmospheric and melancholy, not seeming to move in any particular direction. All the action takes place during the hook. The keyboard player hits a single high note repeatedly with one hand, while his other hand runs through some simple progressions. More importantly, the band moves between singing a long, high, wordless cry and a chant—“Come back roses and leave the foul poses.” It’s an expression of agony, followed by an attempt to gather yourself together, only to fall apart again. You don’t know what the words mean, but you know exactly how they feel.
For the most part, Candy Salad reaches for big impact, and there’s not much in the way of surprise or nuance – they want you to feel things, so most of the time they bash away at their instruments and do other things to make you pay attention. The first track, “Going Nowhere”, starts with huge guitars. Right after that comes “Figure It Out”, which, as noted before, begins with big shouts. The next song, “Brick To The Bones”, brings back heavy guitar chords during its chorus. “Leave The Light On” rolls on a fat synthesizer reminiscent of another indie group, Tigercity (incidentally, also big falsetto-lovers). “Charmaine” builds and builds towards a shout-it-to-the-heavens chorus about futility – “Run in circles, tear your cross out.” These types of large, emphatic peaks and valleys can be a double-edged sword. Sure, they can get people to respond viscerally, rising up in unison before their brains can even register what their bodies are doing. But the effect experiences diminishing returns—when you get into fist-pumping too often, it starts to lose its power. Also, you better sell it. Some people, like Bruce Springsteen, can make a career out of hoarse, heartfelt earnestness. But it’s not easy, and if it doesn’t seem believable, even for a second, you quickly look the fool.
Suckers’ first album had everyone comparing them to bands like MGMT, Yeasayer, and Vampire Weekend. On Candy Salad, they manage to separate themselves some from this group to some extent. It’s not easy for a band to strike out on its own. For their third album, hopefully Suckers will recognize the power of restraint – they don’t always need to pump things to the max to get their point across. A song like “Roses”, which initially seems to meander aimlessly before surprising the listener,