Talk Normal: Sugarland

An album by any other name would sound as sweet…

Talk Normal


Label: Rare Book Room
US Release Date: 2009-10-27
UK Release Date: 2009-11-09

What's in a name? Sugarland marks the first full release by Talk Normal, a Brooklyn duo comprised of Sarah Register and Andrya Ambro. The ladies take their cues from the rich history of New York's No Wave scene – with artists like DNA and Lydia Lunch serving as inspiration for their unsettling blasts of sound and fury. Therefore, Sugarland most likely has nothing to do with country artists or the hometown of this reviewer. What it is is the sound of Talk Normal making a name for themselves.

Talk Normal first appeared on the scene earlier in 2009 with the release of their fine Secret Cog EP. The EP found the band staking their claim to the No Wave legacy while bringing a fresh perspective to the famously fickle genre. The EP felt wildly unhinged and appropriately messy. Now, as 2009 draws to a close, Sugarland finds the band tightening up, locking in, and expanding on the ideas of their debut EP.

"Polish" is not something usually associated with No Wave, a genre famously centered on dissonance and ugliness. The No Wave tradition is one of confrontation and challenge -- forever asking the audience to squeeze into uncomfortable, squeamish places. This stance is the antithesis of polish and sonic smoothness. So, after the welcome sloppiness and woozy production of the Secret Cog EP, Sugarland feels a bit more polished. It's not that the songs on Sugarland are markedly different from the ones on Secret Cog -- there's still plenty of arresting passages of noise and songwriting skill – it just comes off more focused and professional. With a record deal comes a certain seriousness, I suppose. It's largely to the benefit of Sugarland through the clarity of the sonic layers, but the rough-hewn edges of their debut EP have been sanded down.

This, however, doesn't undercut the power and force of conviction on Sugarland. "Hot Song" opens the album with the type of lively polyrhythmic percussion from Ambro that colored so much of Secret Cog. "In a Strangeland" continues the strong start and the polyrhythmic bashing with hammered-on intensity. "Mosquito", however, piles up the sludge rather than pounding it away through force. The track staggers and lurches under the weight of guitar squall. Talk Normal expresses a desire to build atmosphere and dread with "Mosquito" in a way that goes beyond their previous output. The sludge suits them and adds another dimension to their sound – it's the type of useful patience that balances their impetuous, pounding brutality.

Talk Normal boldly takes a stab at Roxy Music's "In Every Dream Home a Heartache" in the latter half of Sugarland. The song's cathartic release gets a No Wave makeover that washes away the spangled glam of the original. The cover walks a line between straight homage and a full-on re-imagining – Register follows the cadences of the original but stretches out syllables and bends notes to amp up the emotion. She sounds weary and beaten pre-catharsis and downright ferocious afterward. Covering something so iconic takes on an element of risk, but Talk Normal balances reverence and innovation with skill.

So what is in a name? What does Sugarland mean in connection to the music of Talk Normal? It ultimately doesn't matter. What matters is this: Talk Normal is a name to remember.






'World War 3 Illustrated #51: The World We Are Fighting For'

World War 3 Illustrated #51 displays an eclectic range of artists united in their call to save democracy from rising fascism.


Tiphanie Doucet's "You and I" Is an Exercise in Pastoral Poignancy (premiere)

French singer-songwriter Tiphanie Doucet gives a glimpse of her upcoming EP, Painted Blue, via the sublimely sentimental ode, "You and I".


PM Picks Playlist 3: WEIRDO, Psychobuildings, Lili Pistorius

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of WEIRDO, Brooklyn chillwavers Psychobuildings, the clever alt-pop of Lili Pistorius, visceral post-punk from Sapphire Blues, Team Solo's ska-pop confection, and dubby beats from Ink Project.

By the Book

The Story of Life in 10 1/2 Species (excerpt)

If an alien visitor were to collect ten souvenir life forms to represent life on earth, which would they be? This excerpt of Marianne Taylor's The Story of Life in 10 and a Half Species explores in text and photos the tiny but powerful earthling, the virus.

Marianne Taylor

Exploitation Shenanigans 'Test Tube Babies' and 'Guilty Parents' Contend with the Aftermath

As with so many of these movies about daughters who go astray, Test Tube Babies blames the uptight mothers who never told them about S-E-X. Meanwhile, Guilty Parents exploits poor impulse control and chorus girls showing their underwear.


Deftones Pull a Late-Career Rabbit Out of a Hat with 'Ohms'

Twenty years removed from Deftones' debut album, the iconic alt-metal outfit gel more than ever and discover their poise on Ohms.


Arcade Fire's Will Butler Personalizes History on 'Generations'

Arcade Fire's Will Butler creates bouncy, infectious rhythms and covers them with socially responsible, cerebral lyrics about American life past and present on Generations.


Thelonious Monk's Recently Unearthed 'Palo Alto' Is a Stellar Posthumous Live Set

With a backstory as exhilarating as the music itself, a Thelonious Monk concert recorded at a California high school in 1968 is a rare treat for jazz fans.


Jonnine's 'Blue Hills' Is an Intimate Collection of Half-Awake Pop Songs

What sets experimental pop's Jonnine apart on Blue Hills is her attention to detail, her poetic lyricism, and the indelibly personal touch her sound bears.


Renegade Connection's Gary Asquith Indulges in Creative Tension

From Renegade Soundwave to Renegade Connection, electronic legend Gary Asquith talks about how he continues to produce infectiously innovative music.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.