Rating: 3/5Suckers don’t have much of a story. A Brooklyn band wielding hooky indie-rock, striped with various ‘70s and ‘80s influences falling on various mile markers of the “ironic or not” scale: Hall & Oates, Talking Heads, Graceland, Springsteen, yada yada. The band got caught up in some moderate blog buzz following their self-titled EP in 2009, released Wild Smile, their solid but wildly amorphous debut LP. And now here they are on their sophomore album, ready to make it or break it.
On Candy Salad, Suckers have decided to channel their quirky tendencies in slightly more mature and less confrontational ways – with “slightly” being the key word. Opener “Nowhere” is more of a balls-out rock song than anything on Wild Smile, punctured by an alien guitar solo. On their debut, this touch of Eno may have needled through the whole song, emanating clever weirdness but still feeling a little gimmicky. After the beat momentarily dissipates, the break is led back into the song by quarter beats on the kick drum – such a cliché in sections like this, by bands like these, that its intention may have been jokey.
This bridge sufficiently sums up Candy Salad: fun, kitschy, and often blissfully melodic, while painfully indecisive, scatterbrained and often on the wrong side of cliché. Frontman Quinn Walker’s vocals, while more consistent than on Wild Smile, are still all over the map, ranging from the Ezra Koenig-meets-Isaac Brock harmonies that introduce the punchy “Figure It Out” to the highest of falsettos on “Chinese Braille.” Paired with the band’s unapologetic influence-lifting – some Steely Dan and Bowie here, some Yeasayer and Wolf Parade there (and there, and there) – the vocal hopscotch sounds dandy, but renders the music faceless and difficult to recall after a full listen.
The retro (as in 1970s/80s) sound sweeping through each song comes fully out of the closet on “Chinese Braille,” a song that tows the line between Hall & Oates and some bonus track on a forgotten Time-Life compilation. Walker’s impressive wordplay and phrasing, here and throughout Candy Salad, conceal lyrics that don’t mean or add up to much: “It’s not necessary to curse the cross I carry when you bury me in a blanket of your tears/ That’s not compromising.” As they have in the past, Suckers’ no doubt ace their harmonization of guitars with organ, horns, or whatever else they’re paired with (thanks in part to producer Matt Boynton), a highly commendable trait given the surprising number of similar acts who still haven’t figured that out.
Suckers’ scattered schizophrenia falls in line the best on “Charmaine.” It’s a power ballad in the classic sense, with monster riffs and howling chorus vocals. Underneath though, there’s lush, compressed synths, bizarre samples, and lyrics that deftly representing both the band’s id and ego: “Straighten out our crooked spine/ I’ll be there by dinner time/ Fix your needs to fit with mine/ I will be your concubine.”
Other songs are less noteworthy.”George” is an ode to days, songs and parties past that is dumb in most senses of the word: “Remember when we were in high school?/ Walking in the woods/ Take a car over to George’s every chance we could/ Bodies buried in the basement/ Kids are on the stairs.” The song rides out some lazy “da-da-da”s following a couple of lazy synth sections, and one begins to assume that dumb and lazy was the point. Mainly though, it puts in plain view the fact that this song sounds almost nothing like “Nowhere,” closing track “Roses,” or really any other song here.
While Glass Candy makes for a breezy pastiche of smooth cock-rock and the tribal indie experimentation that’s popped up on dozens of other records the past few years, it does little to further a sound and story that could really use some furthering. Suckers don’t suck, but they’ve got a ways to go before they’re solid.