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Making the Downtempo Look Up from Here – “666” by Sugar Candy Mountain

Sugar Candy Mountain
PIAPTK Records

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There’s a lot of it about these days. Neo-psych seems to come spinning kaliedoscopically out of every available rabbit’s hole and upturned wizard’s hat you can find. None of it sounds like this. And in fact, come to that, this debut makes a hash of just about any assumption that might get thrown at it based on band name, album title, the look of the playlist, everything. That the band are based part time in Joshua Tree may align with the widescreen breathing room character of their sound but even that association borders on the tenuous.

Released July 8th on PIAPTK Records, 666 (unless it’s in the dry wind blowing benignly across the desert there’s nothing remotely satanic here) by Sugar Candy Mountain (neither do the specters of Neil Young nor Harry McClintock hover furtively within) goes about its disabusing in the most beguilingly pleasant fashion. Evincing, overall, a saturnine Broadcast vibe like acolytes dressed in breezy cotton swaying blissfully at the margins, the album as often as not effloresces a scrub-brush tropicalia that does the most amazing job of making the downtempo look up from here.

Teetering with perilous nonchalance between the suave and the narcotic, there is simply no better soundtrack for your next wanderlusting adventure into the Mojave fueled by martinis and acid. Kissed by a seductive constancy, 666, like the world’s mellowest accelerant, never lets up in its drive to keep you moving in that slinky groove normally reserved for cool water snakes doing the sun-baked samba. “Windows” introduces us like someone just back from the French Riviera showing her pals in Oakland – the band’s true home base – her Mediterranean tan, singer-guitarist Ash Reiter the bringer of the sweet/cool dream vox as if she’s Françoise Hardy’s neo-hippy Californian niece singing like a siren emerging out of a heat-haze mirage. Thus she floats until Bryant Denison steps in to direct our attention to the other side of the road where a garage-built guitar solo is peeling away for the horizon dressed in a mild psychedelic fuzz. As calling cards go it’s instantly memorable, etched in sandstone and entrancement. It’s also the perfect embodiment of what comes after, tweaks and variants notwithstanding.

The dusty and ephemeral title track, swirly keyboard and drone-tone echoplexed rhythm guitar, presents the number of the Beast as if it’s an SPF rating, the mood bright and languid, convivial. Like Bacharach and David sneaking out from under a Hazlewooded shadow, “Eye on You,” on the strength of Peter Maffei’s easy-creeping (and in this case acoustic) bass and the crispest stick work this side of the bossa nova divide (Will Halsey, who also provides some vocal harmonies), swings along with a restorative pop insistence, “Time” combines an intimate chime with the sanguine-but-sublime melancholy of a more muscular Camera Obscura to arrive at the doorstep of a charming popsike bungalow, while final cut “Summer of Our Discontent” finds Low dipping into a jar of Cowboy Junkie voodoo, poignant of guitar, gently resigned of voice and reeling in a gorgeous sadness. I’d mention that the Lynchean balladry of Julee Cruise is another touchstone but no doubt that’s already occurred to you, so…

All referents aside, there’s a reason 666 was released smack in the middle of summer. You know that feeling you get when you pause for a timeless moment, close your eyes and turn your face toward the smiling warmth of the sun and the back of your eyelids glow all orangey and umbrous and for those few seconds you’re immortal and weightless and your heart seems to beat with the pure helium gratitude of simply being alive, when even the darker corners, plainly visible, are wrapped in a benign light that makes them appear manageable? Whatever the band’s other intentions. Sugar Candy Mountain have succeeded at converting that feeling to sound. In a very real – and musically hyper-adept – way, summer just got brighter.