Athens, GA quintet Dead Confederate have been making pulsating noises of various sorts for the past four years, yet somehow seem to have slipped by almost unnoticed. It's hard to credit, really, as to all intents and purposes their frazzled, shoegaze-tinged stoner grunge leaves most of their peers out in the cold. Furthermore, they've enjoyed the seal of approval from a host of alt.rock luminaries past and present, having toured with the likes of A Place To Bury Strangers, The Meat Puppets and Dinosaur Jr, whose frontman J.
Despite the name of Dead Confederate’s sophomore release, the band didn’t trade in their grungy chops for innocuous sweetened-up, pop confections. The more versatile Sugar shows the band’s often thick and sludgy guitar textures stripped down, allowing space for cleaner guitar lines, a discernible melody, the occasional, albeit odd string arrangement, and vintage reverb organ. The album’s best song, a slower, largely acoustic-driven “Run From the Gun,” sounds like an exotic, neon-light-tinged take on Big Star, allowing lead singer Hardy Morris’s vocals to shine through.
Focused sound, fuzzy songwriting On their sophomore release, Athens, Ga. rockers Dead Confederate continue torefine their brand of grungy shoegaze. They’ve enlisted the help of producer John Agnello, who reins in the meandering sludge of 2008’s debut Wrecking Ball and nips song length in the bud (the longest track on the band’s 2008 debut clocked in at over 12 minutes).
Although they billed themselves as psychedelic Southern rock revivalists, Dead Confederate sounded more like a holdover from the post-grunge days on their 2008 debut. Sugar doesn’t completely dispel the notion that Hardy Morris spent his childhood listening to Nirvana’s In Utero, but it does take its cues from a wider range of genres, including garage rock and swampy alt-country. The result is a solid sophomore album, with muddy guitars and loose arrangements that push the group closer to their intended sound.
So many guitar bands are harking back to the early 1990s at the moment, it's tempting to suspect some sort of industry plot, keen to resurrect the grunge era when angst-ridden guitar groups were so popular that A&R men scoured places like Stoke-on-Trent in search of budding Kurt Cobains. Athens, Georgia quintet Dead Confederate's second album owes much to Smashing Pumpkins and My Bloody Valentine, while Sonic Youth/Dinosaur Jr producer John Agnello shrouds the prerequisite vaguely troubling lyrics ("I was the quiet kid...") in soft grunge production. It's all epic, if slightly textbook stuff, but the title track and By Design conjure up a brooding menace rarely heard since Jane's Addiction.
Being a band from Athens is at best a mixed blessing. On one hand, if your band can squeeze into the crowded local scene and get some positive buzz, the town’s reputation will hold up its end of the deal. On the other, unless your band is as vastly divergent from the “Athens scene” as a group like Harvey Milk, there’s almost no way that the stratospheric bar that exists in the South’s cradle of indie rock will ever be cleared.
Dead Confederate’s debut, Wrecking Ball, wasn’t a great album, but there were moments of raw passion and honest-to-god ecstasy that the band’s new album, Sugar, seems to intentionally eschew. Instead of chunky guitars and a flailing disposition influenced by the disheveled rock n’ roll of bands like the Strokes and the Black Keys, Dead Confederate has eliminated the rambunctious energy of its debut in favor of manicured FM alt-rock that’s dispossessed of any spirit. In a lot of ways, the record mirrors the problems fellow Athens, Georgia alt-rockers the Whigs had on this year’s In the Dark: professional to a fault, replacing their raucous, punk ethos with a commercially minded production that ended up watering down the whole package.
Best known as a spirited live band, Dead Confederate have grown and developed the old-fashioned way: They toured with some veteran acts and took copious notes. After releasing their debut in 2008, the Athens group did a stint opening for Dinosaur Jr. and the Meat Puppets, an apprenticeship that, for better or for worse, is evident on their sophomore album, Sugar.
Dead Confederate’s 2008 debut, Wrecking Ball, was incredibly promising. The often-quoted tag of “Nirvana meets My Morning Jacket” was, actually, quite accurate—emotionally intense, punk-influenced art rock delivered with a deep sense of Southern atmosphere. Dead Confederate managed the difficult task of creating a sound that was simultaneously wide-open and spacious, yet haunted and claustrophobic.
As a music writer doing reviews weekly, occasionally on groups he might not be intimately acquainted with, it's nice when a band chooses a name that sheds at least some light on the their sound. With a name like Dead Confederate, you're almost certainly going to get a very dark, Southern-tinged rock music. But if you listen even not-so closely to Sugar, the band's sophomore album, you hear the band's more profound influences: a synthesis between the overly dramatic alternative rock of the Smashing Pumpkins and the grimy blues-grunge of Toadies.
Dead ConfederateSugarTAO/Old Flame Rating: When Athens, Georgia’s Dead Confederate began their debut album, Wrecking Ball, with a throat-shredding moan and an avalanche of guitars, they were instantly pegged as a Southern-fried Nirvana. While a little too cute, it did sum up their vibe fairly well and suggested some interesting directions they could go in the years to come. Unfortunately, their follow up, Sugar, doesn’t so much build on Wrecking Ball’s strengths as it goes in a new – and less successful – direction entirely.