Charlotte rock quartet Sugar Glyder celebrates the release of its new album, “The Eyes: They See” Saturday at Amos’ Southend. The album marks a milestone for the band as its debut for the ORG Music label (which releases vinyl reissues from famous folks as well as new material from punk stalwart Mike Watt and Red Hot Chili Peppers’ Flea). From what I’m hearing concert goers should expect a full stage production - not just your average rock show - with props and projections that I expect might echo the above video for its single “Lost in the Woods” (which you can watch in 3D).
Although Sugar Glyder has evolved over the years, it was a bit ahead of the curve to start with.
I saw Sugar Glyder fairly early on playing Tremont’s Casbah stage in 2006 and it was a solid band even then. It’s knack for writing and arranging was accentuated by commitment and work ethic (which is sort of the subject of "Lost in the Woods"). That’s a combination that’s benefited folks like the Avetts.
It’s evolution from the well-produced (by local musician Kit Walters) self-released albums and EPs to a higher dollar, big city production seems more gradual and less ear-shocking than a band that’s jumped from homemade demo to professional studio. Its records already sounded professional, so I wondered how working with producer Steven Haigler (who mixed most of the Pixies’ output, Charlotte defunct hardcore band Hopesfall’s “A Types,” and Clutch’s debut) and mastering engineer Bernie Grundman (Michael Jackson, Fleetwood Mac) would impact this album. I don’t know how much of “The Eyes: They See” is a credit to their input, but the album is brimming with subtle details and dynamics amid its big hooks.
There are signature Sugar Glyder moments (and two tracks - favorites of mine - culled from its 2011 “Lovers at Light Speed” EP), but there are also some surprises. “Lady Touch,” for instance, jumps off the speakers with a sexy funk groove, Bobby Matthews' shifting disco-like backbeat, and a synthesizer (which guitarist Chris Rigo reports is also a synthesizer guitar pedal at times) that sounds plucked from a `70s AM radio before the track erupts into a more contemporary dance-rock chorus. At one point Daniel Howie’s voice scales the rafters, but it’s brief and subtle. No Mariah-style diva-ing here. It fits the mix. Subject-wise it’s their most adult track too.
Elsewhere the keys and guitar/synth remind me of `80s R&B. “Baxolectro” (which Rigo reports is named for the star the band purchased) bridges soul and Sugar Glyder’s signature rock with harmonies, those retro keyboard sounds, and this underlying melody that would be at home on a classic Babyface track.
The more traditional rock songs like “Campfire” do a good job of alternating between toned down verses that build into big driving choruses. I’ve always described Sugar Glyder’s work as grand. That means while it sounds at home in clubs (where they actually draw several hundred locally) it isn’t a huge leap to imagine its songs filling an arena. They're usually that big-sounding. I think that quality is both restrained on “The Eyes: They See” and at its peak. Comparisons to Muse, Coldplay and the Killers aren’t so far off. You can almost see those songs in the same settings that those artists perform in.
While original bassist Emily Aoyagi recorded the album with Sugar Glyder, she left the band in November. The new video features new bassist Robby Hartis of Lights, Fluorescent and My Captain, who jumped on board immediately for the band’s November tour. He should be a good addition because of his heavier rock background, his knack for writing and arranging, and his backing vocals.
You can catch Sugar Glyder and get a copy of “The Eyes: They See” before its national March 5 release Saturday. Tickets are $10-$12 via www.etix.com and at the door. Flagship and Greensboro’s Unifier open.