Sugar Stems

Only Come Out at Night

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The Sugar Stems are a pop band that isn't afraid to play loud and hit hard, but they are most decidedly not pop-punk -- this band is too good-natured to have a punky bone in its body, suggesting early Blondie with a dose of Midwestern Nice substituting for East Coast Cool (though at least vocalist Betsy Heibler sounds like she'd be more willing to hang out with you than Debbie Harry, even as she kisses off an ex on the title tune). But that's not so say the band's fourth album, Only Come Out at Night, lacks bite -- there's a tankful of garagey energy in these songs to go along with the insistent hooks, hummable melodies, and spot-on harmonies. Drew Fredrichsen and Betsy Heibler's guitar parts are simple but roar with elemental power, meshing nicely with Jon Heibler's pounding drums and Stephanie Conard's bubbling basslines, and Andy Harris' keys make for a strong melodic reinforcement for their sounds. The songs are clever without sounding pretentious, casting a regular person's rock & roll eye on the usual tribulations of life, love, and trees, and Betsy Heibler's lead vocals are strong and clear but down to earth, befitting someone from Milwaukee who still lives for hook-laden rock. And the production and mix serve the music well, adding just enough gloss to bring out the most in the melodies but keeping the beat strong and the guitars crunchy, and giving the voices their place to shine. The Sugar Stems are one band that hasn't forgotten the formula for traditionalist power pop, and Only Come Out at Night is a blast of good fun that's not too clean or too gritty, hitting the sweet spot for hook-infused rock.

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