What kind of world would this be if I didn't have things to say about something Sugarfoot does?
Make NO mistake. This IS my favorite band. I mean.. it's not some freakin' secret. This is just the way it is.
I've been following the works of Øyvind Holm, Hogne Galåen, and friends since before the Sugarfoot days. I had no idea about Sugarfoot when they first emerged, but I certainly knew of their past works in other bands. For me, following the Norwegian scene since the early '90s has been a remarkably good idea.
I had Deleted Waveform Gatherings songs stuck in my head long before the days of me freaking out over this incarnation of musical minds.
I had heard a few tunes come along that really impressed me: "My Friend", and "Do It Again" from Big Sky Country.. I was interested...
When Sugarfoot came along with a single called "Tiger Rider", I jumped up and said: "Hey!!! I KNOW this tune!" It was once a DWG song, and was reworked into a Sugarfoot tune.. made even better. Thenceforth, I kind of figured I was going to keep checking these guys out. That whole album blindsided me. Full of power poppy goodness, Paisley Underground influences, topped off with twangy alt-country and lively Americana, smothered in a light sauce of psych rock and '70s prog.
Along came The Santa Ana in 2017... I lost it. A total masterpiece.. made my entire universe flip upside down... Made me write a manic review...
Made #1 my Best Of The Year List.
That album is among the best albums I have ever heard. And there it stays.
I've been so impressed with this band, I literally could not handle it. I don't know if I've ever been such a superfan about anything. It's like, I could listen to nothing else and be okay with that.
So.. now we fast forward to 2019.. I've waited for a long time for these guys to make something new! But, actually, two years is not that long in the grand scheme of things. but for an unrelenting fan like myself, it's like a million years...
In The Clearing is many things. Not just to me, but to the entire shared universe that is Sugarfoot, I'm certain.
In The Clearing comes our way, and we're flattened down like a bunch of lazy dandelions. Swaying in the breeze, we come face to face with the juggernaut of psychedelic hues, chiaroscuros of darkness and light, and ignitions of emotion.
Nothing will stand in its way.
In The Clearing is nothing like its predecessors. Sure, it has bits and pieces that poke out here and there, a few sharp twangy branches.
Previous efforts are all a little different than the last, and this one is absolutely no exception.
We're looking at the difference between a single tumbleweed racing across the desert highway, or a huge, ancient oak tree falling in the woods:
Earlier on, the tumbleweed rolls along, dropping seeds, making new life with each consecutive bounce and tumble. All thirsty and carefree.
Lately, the fallen oak tree makes way for microcosms and micro-universes, biodiversity setting in, allowing a complete and total change within the original form... Mycelium takes hold, new animals find shelter. Insects create nurseries, earthworms feast, beetles sleep. Beautiful rot, the natural process. When it falls, it makes a huge sound, even if nobody is
there to hear it. And, like the old trope about things falling in the
woods goes, that's quite a feat. Listen carefully, friends. This album is a doorway into a world you had no idea existed.
I feel that this might be one of the band's most heartfelt and personal albums yet. Leaving the desert and finding a fixture with a different production, different mindsets, the entire album packs a wallop. Smooth branches intersecting with thorns and vines. Roots laid bare. What was once darkness on the land glistens with morning dew. It's truly a Sugarfoot album, by all means.. but this is something "special"... where once were tumbleweeds is now a rainy morning, pastoral nods, sylvan visitations...
We're treated immediately to "Changing Time", and it speaks right away to my prog rock sensibilities.. it's like Yes jumped in for a couple of measures. Could almost hear Jon Anderson, angelically oo-ing in the background. Notably one of the few Sugarfoot songs to have multiple instrumental solos happening. It's really breathtaking. Scrupulously-crafted key modulations, fun vocal effects, and keyboard/organ jumping out from every which way. The whole thing keeps going until it runs out of breath, and still fires on. Existential questions of the inner spirit versus the perceived spiritual world... a matter of the heart and the abstract mind. I was listening to this casually, and a friend came in and said: "Is this Grateful Dead?", at which point I laughed a lot. But there IS that. The horns, and the riff simply spells it out. Interpreting it is up to the listener.
"Cotton Candy Clouds" rolls in with a lullaby, flowing ever so slightly, ever so softy. Calling forth the feelings of a simple love, a simple day, and a simple wish. Pedal steel shines through the darkening clouds like a shimmering beam of light.
"In The Clearing" is one of those songs that has to FELT to be believed. Trust me when I tell you that this tune is an adventure. I know I use that word often: "Adventure". But, in this case, prepare yourself to go traversing through the universes inside a spaceship designed for the smoothest ride through the cosmos ever. No need to strap in for this one. Just grab on.
"Ladybug Fly" dreams of a better life.. this tune is a slight departure from what we have already experienced on the album, and is literally an interlude that allows breathing room in between surges. In a strange sense, this sounds slightly like a "metaphorical biography". I get the sense that much of this album is in the same vein. We're talking about somebody's somebody, in light of all the good and bad that they've seen, tracking down the keys to a better way.
"Just A Dream Away" has a little fun with the graduates of hard knocks university, forces in life you simply can't deny, even calls out the spirit of ex-Clash voxman. Do I hear a Partridge chirping? That uplifting piano melody brings me back... some playful innocence in there.. the future is now, and it ain't so "wow".
"The House On The Hill".. now hold up a sec... first of all, coming in sounding like a Motorpsycho leftover, all groovy and alt-y, all slide-y and sneaky. But then these lyrics.. anybody else have kids "grown up-ish"? This is about being a parent.. At first, I thought this was about a relationship, but it turns out that it is... just a different kind. The chorus, to me, sounds like a re-wording of our classic parenting phrase: "I brought you into this world, and I can take you out of it." If you ever have any kids that actually make it past being a teenager (if we don't kill them first. HA!), then this song is perfect. I'm sure most of us can relate.
"Pretty Miss Darkness".. so nice. This one kind of puts me in the frame of mind as if this is a spiritual sequel to "Owe Them Nothin" and "Dolphins Hotel". Somebody that clings to your mind and heart, and takes hold of your life in a such way that they're a veneer over your everyday goings on. Another song I can hear Colin Moulding's voice over top of. Not that Holm doesn't belong.. quite the contrary. I just hear some serious XTC in parts of this album, and it shows up from time to time more so than others. (Which is reflected in the album artwork, as well, as the packaging was done by an artist responsible for the aforementioned band's past works)
"Original Sin" calls from all influences, and lays them out bareroot and prunes them into shape. Each branch is grafted onto another tree, existing solely to re-create the tree entirely. It's the most "Sugarfooty" tune of them all.
Included in the vinyl package is a 7" with two extra tracks, both of which are superb add-ons to the whole album.
"Another Tinfoil Morning" is a look into the weirdness of laughable conspiracy theorists, whackjobs, nutcases, crackpots, kooks, oddballs, and those whose cheese has slipped off their cracker. And other ex-GF stuff.
When you get glitter on you, it stays forever. "Valentine" is glittery. It sparkles and glows with the best of intentions. Often the best of intentions are met with dissent. If you can't love with simply love, what's the point? Love simply, be satisfied. Cheer up. This song is like the Buckingham/Nicks, Dave Gregory, Moulding, and Partridge Megabomb. The main theme clings to you like stickerbushes.
In The Clearing is easily a highly-cultivated work, showing each and every petal, every leaf, every twig, every nut, and every fruit. I have listened to it more than 40 times already. Day after day, hour after hour, I fill it with Sugarfoot's music.
I know.. coming from me, this is an easy task, listening to Sugarfoot. When a band comes around that defies your own logic, it's easy to have them be the biggest part of everything you do. Now.. that being said, I have a CD changer in the car. It's FULL of Sugarfoot now. Every new album that plays is another Sugarfoot album, and I find that to be the most inspiring thing ever. All I want to do is drive places so I can listen to every album in a row, over and over again.
I live in the USA. I suppose I don't mind. I've got some family in Norway. A bunch of 'em I don't know, never met, or have not spoken to in years. I've thought about going across the pond a time or two. It's something that I'll likely do before I die, anyway. But, when that moment comes along, there had better be a Sugarfoot show happening... I might even plan an entire trip around a single show. Let's do this.
Sugarfoot - In The Clearing. Staying firmly #1 in my Best Of The Year List, and the year's not even over.