Amber: Since both Danny and I love Alabama's shoegaze/dream pop wonder band The Sunshine Factory madly (check out the interview we did with them a few months ago), we thought we'd do something we've never done before on When The Sun Hits - a dual review! Once we'd both heard the new full length album, Sugar, we were completely blown away by it, and the only conceivable option was to write a review together. I will be taking the first half (intro and tracks 1-4), and Danny the last (tracks 5-9). You need to get this record, trust us. Enjoy!
Danny: First of all let me say this: Robert and Ian are my personal friends. I love these guys, and love everything they have done. It's a major thing for a band as good as this to be from Alabama! Not only are they from my state, they are my friends and they ROCK!On to the review!
Artist: The Sunshine Factory.
Album Title: Sugar.
Release Date: December 14, 2010.
Label: The Sugar Collective.
The Sunshine Factory are Ian Taylor (guitars, tracking, vocals, lyricist), Sally Robertson (bass, vocals), Mathew Hendrich (drums), and Robert Daniel Taylor (production, lyricist, all around contributor/Superman) and they are based in Mobile, Alabama. After releasing the Vintage Revolution LP and the Sugar EP (both in 2009), the Sunshine Factory started getting major attention from gazers and dream pop lovers everywhere, and with good reason - both releases were absolute show stoppers. Since then, your When The Sun Hits writers have been eagerly anticipating the release of the Sugar LP; we ADORE this band. Sugar is, without a doubt, the band's strongest release to date (which is saying a lot, considering how strong their previous releases have been), and displays a band on the cusp of greatness and at the top of their game. Let's dig into the details, shall we?
The Sunshine Factory. Blue Sky. Vintage Revolution. (2009)
The album opens with "Down", a beautiful track with all of the brilliance of a My Bloody Valentine tune, as far as the soundscapes are concerned; but with Ian's honeyed vocals, it sparkles more brightly as a pop song. If there is one thing I can't say enough about, it's Ian's voice. The guy has a set of pipes on him that any dream pop vocalist would kill to have. I have a feeling My Bloody Valentine comparisons are going to get thrown around a lot here - not because The Sunshine Factory sound like MBV rip offs, but because their mastery of creating soundscapes truly does remind me of MBV. High praise for any group, and considering Ian is the oldest member of the performing group (Robert is more behind the scenes than the rest of the members) at the ripe old age of 22, this mastery is no small feat. Hearing Ian croon: Golden as the orient/Silver lines the clouds - with that angelic voice - is something to be experienced. This track has all of the blissed out beauty of a MBV tune updated for 2010, but takes it further with Ian's gorgeous voice, almost space rock-esque guitar use, and The Sunshine Factory's own unique stylings. A gem.
"Smile", track 2, has a bit harder edge to it, with a twinge of psychedelia thrown in. It has that early Ride vibe to it, with the wild guitar that almost wants to break free of the rhythm of the song, but stays in line just so, pulling it all together. There is a true sense of rocking out with "Smile", a feeling of freedom that reminds me a bit of The Stone Roses. This is shoegaze hovering on the edge of psychedelia, but with pop sensibilities...a balance that, if done right, is incredibly striking. Let me just say: The Sunshine Factory are doing it right. The production is impeccable here, as well. Everything comes together perfectly.
The next track, "Head Becomes A Tomb", not only boasts my favorite song title on Sugar, but is a truly accomplished piece of psychedelia-infused perfection. Once again, I'm finding it more and more difficult to pigeonhole this band as shoegaze/dream pop - if anything, The Sunshine Factory have expanded their sound into straight up psychedelia. I'm a firm believer that shoegaze has deep roots in psychedelia, and to hear The Sunshine Factory push their sound to that place is very exciting. Once you start dipping your fingers into the realm of the trippy, the possibilities of experimenting become somewhat endless. I was floored by this track, with it's full guitar sound, otherwordly synths, Sally's heavenly backing vocals and the swirling kaleidoscope of shoegaze/dream pop/psychedelia that colors the whole piece. And just the way Ian sing's the words "quiet desperation" in the first few moments of the song is absolutely transcendent. Quite possibly my favorite newer track on this album (several of the songs have already been released on the band's Sugar EP last year).
"Don't Fall Asleep", Sugar's fourth track, pulls you out of the psychedelic headspace for a moment, back to the land of dream pop. A bit slower, with an almost lilting quality to it, this one is truly lovely. Any fan of the early ethereal sounds of the much beloved Sarah Records will adore this track. Lyrics like: You are more beautiful than the morning/You are the dayfall/The night is calling sounds even more gorgeous delivered in Ian's amazing voice than it reads on paper. Stunning. Truly stunning. And now I hand the reigns over to Danny, while my headphones and I bliss out to the rest of Sugar...
Track 5,"Bon Ami" (French for "good friend"), was a total surprise for me. It seems at first to be out of place on this record, with it's accordion and clean guitar, but then Ian's voice comes in and it's all chill bumps and teary eyes for this reviewer. What a stunning melody! Ian's voice is almost flute-like and has a lilting quality that is just immaculate. This song is a major step forward in Ian and Robert's writing partnership. It's the perfect lyric for the perfect melody! It's simply beautiful. Not to mention the production is spot on. If the song were jumbled with tons of overdubbing it would kill the intimacy. It's the perfect example of less is more. By adding just the right instrumentation ( wind chime and accordion) The Sunshine Factory give "Bon Ami" a sense of time and place."Bon Ami", in your reviewers humble opinion, is one of the best songs Ian and Robert have written so far. This is A+ material ladies and gents and it doesn't get much better.
The Sunshine Factory. Skin As Smooth As Porcelain.
The Sunshine Factory. Skin As Smooth As Porcelain.
Scott Cortez-esque tone/melody and sinks it's teeth in on first listen. What a great guitar tone Ian gets! Amber and I had the pleasure of hearing an early draft of "Twisted" and Amber debuted it this summer on her shoegaze radio show for KTRU (based in Houston). The response was overwhelming and immediately positive. (Amber - It's true, I had people calling the station wanting to know what I was playing before the track even ended!) When I posted it on Facebook people really, really responded to it. People just love this song! It is a nu-gaze stunner. It has a melody that will be in your head and ringing in your ears for days and days. I must have played it 20 times the first week I had it! Another A+!
Track 7, "My Sugar Cane", comes from the previously self-released Sugar EP. This is the first song I ever heard by the SSF and it's the reason I fell in love with them. If you call yourself a fan of shoegaze and this song doesn't slay you, I just don't know anymore. Apropos of this genre (dream pop/shoegaze) "My Sugar Cane" has an almost lullaby-like melody. It is so catchy as to be almost magical, like a mantra stuck in your head for days and days. I won't hesitate to say it's one of my favorite shoegaze songs ever. Yes, it's that good! "My Sugar Cane" is a perfect example of Kevin Shields style guitar combined with a melody fit for the Beatles. How can you not love it? It's a stunner!
Track 8, "Sugar Sister", also comes from the Sugar EP. This song has a melody that will break your heart and send you reeling, swooning into the aether. Gorgeous, otherwordly guitar and a hook that is, well...perfection. Ian sings: Sugar sister cries/all she wants is love/ Whisper, whisper/Sugar sister/cry no more/Sugar sister tries/she's got to find this love/Answers, answers/Sugar sister/for the fool. Wow,Robert is a lyric master. If that doesn't hit you in the heart I don't know what will. An A freakin' plus on this one too!
The Sunshine Factory. My Sugar Cane. Sugar EP.
The Sunshine Factory. My Sugar Cane. Sugar EP.
Now to track 9, "Deeper Look", which is the last track and another shoegaze stunner! It starts with a swirling, synth-like sound and slams into you going 90mph. It is replete with Sheilds style guitar and enough backwards/gated reverb to send you into interstellar overdrive! It has a droning, Eastern quality that lends the track a mystical air. The guitar is just massive on this song and the drumming kicks ass. Ian really knows how to get that watery, bending MBV sound. This style of guitar is not easy (I know, I play) and I really don't think it can be learned, per-se. You either can do it, or you can't. Ian can do it and do it well! Don't get me wrong, Ian is NOT just another Kevin Shields clone! He really has his own unique style and it's much more refined than most muddy toned Shields wannabes.When I hear Ian I tend to see colours that blink in and out like Christmas lights,or neon .Maybe it's just me?Buy the record and you will see what I mean!The SSF are not a nostalgia act, by any sense of the term. They are pushing the genre forward and all the while nodding to the past. We must have roots to grow! Like the song title, "Deeper Look", we must not take things on mere surface level. In an age overly concerned with money and appearance we must look deeper, much deeper. If you choose to do so with The SSF you will be rewarded with a solid band,a solid work of art and a solid bunch of guys .They are some of the nicest people you will ever meet! It doesn't get any better than this folks.
Your When The Sun Hits writers both come to the following conclusion regarding The Sunshine Factory's Sugar: An absolutely remarkable release of the highest caliber. There isn't a rating high enough for it. You can pre-order a limited edition version of the CD available now at their website, which comes with lovely hand screen printed covers, in Earth-friendly eco-sleeves, with original graphic artwork and design by Matt Allan of The Sugar Collective - and all for a mere $10. Do it. Without question, one of the top releases of 2010, and stunning in every regard. We are proud of you, Sunshine Factory. Bravo.