Various Artists // Sugar Rush
The Grey Estates/Negative Fun Records
Recommended Track(s): Mommy Long Legs – People Ain’t No Good
It takes careful curation to pair Patsy Cline and TLC, but The Grey Estates and Negative Fun Records have pulled it off. Their joint tape, Sugar Rush, is a covers compilation highlighting female- and gender neutral-fronted bands. On principle alone, the project is engaging. And absolutely necessary. As nearly every major music publication’s year-end list proved, underrepresentation is the norm for female musicians. The team behind Sugar Rush tackles this issue by acting in opposition to it. Its inclusive release celebrates the intersection of gender and music, sharing an oft-ignored feminine narrative in the process.
In reupholstering familiar songs as covers, participating artists are immediately made accessible. This isn’t necessarily a tape of 11 new songs, but for many listeners, it may include 11 new artists. Anyone born before the year 2000 (or after, if they’ve ever watched Dawson’s Creek or listened to pop radio) has heard Sixpence None The Richer’s late-90s staple “Kiss Me”, so when Philadelphia duo Kississippi premieres their own folky take of the track, it only feels vaguely introductory. Too much new music at once doesn’t stick. The covered songs act as foundations that lead listeners back to these voices.
In a way, a contributor’s song selection speaks for itself. It could allude to some influence or aim for a specific audience. This definitely doesn’t mean that all Blink-182 fans will dig PONY because it chose to rework “Feeling This”, but it’s a common link. For a band on the verge of breaking out, that’s a good place to start. PONY turns up the pitch and tunes out the arrogance on its cover. Soft, twee harmonies echo the group’s most recent release, CRUSHED.
With a different artist on each track, Sugar Rush manages to balance diversity and cohesion. The range keeps monotony at bay without overstimulating. Pearl Earl puts a psychedelic spin on Devo’s ever-eerie “Mongoloid.” Mommy Long Legs take on The Cramps classic “People Ain’t No Good,” where it pays adequate homage to Lux Interior and earns the compilation’s peak; the tribute led me straight to the band’s EP, Assholes. Closing out the tape, the now-defunct Daddy Issues tries its hand at a Keel Her anthem “Riot Grrrl” by stripping away lo-fi features and bringing in a tambourine.
The tape’s curation is the key to its success. Each cover thrives independently, but the compilation of talented feminine and gender-neutral artists from all corners of the continent is awe-inspiring. Girl power is everywhere — there’s no denying it. There never was.
Sugar Rush is set for a February 29 release on Negative Fun, with pre-orders already available. With so much more work to be done, other independent labels should take note. It’s widely beneficial to highlight undervalued voices, especially when they’re this good.