Lights Out

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For numerous pop-punk bands, there seems to be somewhat of a standard progression of albums. There are exceptions, of course, but for many, album number one is the hook-blasted, immediate satisfaction one. Album number two takes stabs at maturity with an oft-darker vibe. And then album number three rolls around and it's a crapshoot. By now (and often depending on the current label situation) the band has either gone off the deep end, been totally mainstream spit-shined, or managed to successfully combine elements of both earlier albums into a more focused record. Sugarcult have basically followed that progression and, thankfully, were able to end up in the last part of that sentence with their third offering and V2 debut, Lights Out. The quartet has now almost fully embraced the power pop/rock aspect of its sound, which has always been more American Hi-Fi than Green Day anyway. The songs are more gravel-coated than sugar-smacked, though, and vocalist Tim Pagnotta's voice is more weathered-sounding this time around to augment to the record's overall seasoned, somewhat disillusioned feel. Because regardless of the record's unfailing singalongability (check out the stirring power choruses of "Hiatus" and "Do It Alone"), there's just something about Lights Out that emanates band cynicism -- not that this is a bad thing, since the music remains fun and catchy nonetheless. Both love and the music scene have left the guys confused and fed up, yet defiant, and tracks like the murky desire of "Los Angeles," the meditative sway of "Shaking," and the bitterly attitude-laced "Dead Living" ("Beauty lies in the ignorant/With the sound of selling out to the innocent") wade through these feelings well. Nothing on the album is quite as immediate as most of Sugarcult's past work, but that hardly matters; Lights Out has successfully balanced rock, grit, power, and pop, to leave the band sounding stronger than ever before.

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