• James Harvey

Album Review – The Ice Cream Fox – Sugar Monkey - 2016

The Ice Cream Fox – Sugar Monkey

Finally, the release of The Sugar Monkey’s new album ‘The Ice Cream Fox’ is almost upon us. I will if I may, share a little niggling thought I’ve had before I continue; how do they build upon the sounds of the first album which drew on such a rich variety of sources, from across the UK and USA, all merged into their trade mark, tongue in cheek, dark humoured lyrics. Their answer? Head East across Europe, past Scandinavia and into Mother Russia; turn up the volume and get a lot darker.

The album kicks off with ‘May Showers’. A familiar British indie/alt-folk sound that wouldn’t have been out of place on their debut album, which is welcoming to old fans as well as a good introduction to new ears. The song in essence, is a good old fashioned moan about the weather, which, let’s face it, is as British as you can get. ‘May Showers’ is both a solid track to kick the album off, while at the same time helping to set the atmosphere for what is to come.

‘Salt in Your Veins’ follows, with their unconventional take on a love story. It’s hard to tell if it’s a song about breaking up, being dumped, torn apart due to a family rift or some type of brainwashing experiment to erase your memories. My personal take is someone going undercover and having to give up their pervious life! None of this matters however, as the Sugar Monkeys have shown before, their ability to write a simple song that has so many different layers and means something different to whomever happens to be listening, is a testament to their skill as lyricists. I don’t think it truly matters what I, or even they, think it’s about, what matters is its meaning to the listener.

‘Frostbite’, which happens to be their first single from the new album, is where they start to truly turn to the darker noir-esque side of the album, after gently leading us in with the opening tracks. They tell us, ‘If you never move on, you freeze and never go home’, a cautionary tale about living in the past or stalling in the moment whether it be in a relationship, employment or a low period of your life, standing still will be the end of your tale, a throwback to the ‘stiff upper lip’ mentality of yester-year if you will.

‘Colonel Scholska’s Waltz’ embraces this darker side. Clever lyrics and simple but flowing music paint an image of a smoke filled bar somewhere down a Moscow, backstreet in the old Soviet Russia, era where a retired agent shares tales of his time in some shadowy agency as the rain pounds relentlessly on the windows.

‘Keep Me Posted’ jars in with its upbeat tune (but not in such a way as to disrupt the flow of the album) giving some much needed light-heartedness yet retaining the dark edge of the whole. This leads to ‘Apres Pilates’ which whips us back to mainland Europe for influence of the sound then hoping back across the English Channel for the fantastic ‘Ill of the Dead’ which will have you singing along at the top of your voice. All three songs are as unique as the rest, all borrowing heavily from the different musical genres across Europe. They all spin, what seem to be, light-hearted tales on the surface but hold a much darker underbelly for those who wish to delve deeper into the thoughts of the Sugar Monkey.

‘Living is Hard’ opens with a good old fashioned Euro Electric pop intro and continues with a catchy addictive tune throughout which will get your foot tapping, yet again over this is their trademark tongue in cheek lyrics with an alarming tale of living being a lot easier if you have an alcoholic beverage of your choosing.

‘Stacy (You’d Better Write This Down)’ is another standout track on an already accomplished album. However, this track really does turns off all the lights, lays on the rain, thunder, blood and grime while reflecting everything in the stale neon glow of a truly postmodern noir setting. Right from the start with the words ‘There’s an effigy of Ghandi with a greasy bag of chips, Stacy on her knees wiping blood from her lips’ this track really grabs you by the throat and screams in your face. By the end you know Stacy, is not a person per-se, but rather everything that is dark in the human psyche. This track in my humble option, is by far the best song they have ever written, it showcases not only their skill as musicians but as lyricists and is now firmly one of my all-time favourite tracks from any artist.

‘The Ice Cream Fox’ (you can hear an earlier recording of this song in the MMO Secret World at the record store in London) is the morning after the beating you get from the previous song. A pleasant relaxing tale of having a crush on someone and a good way to clear your head before moving on to the rest of the album. This by no means belittles the track but rather again shows off the Sugar Monkey’s ability at pacing an album as a whole experience and not, as is common these days, a collection of tracks or singles that don’t relate to each other.

‘Silvia in Space’ heads back to a non-descript part of Eastern Europe, for a relaxing tale that again can, and will, be interpreted differently from one person to the next. From that we end up back in good old Blighty, for the closing track ‘Katie Says’. A tale of that person we all know, who is overly opinionated and in their mind at least, always right; ending the album as they started, with a good old British moan!

Now you may know I’m a fan of their first album but as with all albums I review, I came to this with an open mind and I’m glad I did, this is an outstanding and somewhat astonishing piece of music. I assure you, I don’t make that statement lightly, this for me at least is firmly in my top five albums of all time, somewhere between Bruce Springsteen’s ‘Nebraska’, and Cypress Hill’s ‘Black Sunday’.

While they retain their dark sense of humour, mixed with their love for musical influences from all different genres from across the world, Matt, Steve and Trev, have not only managed to avoid that second album syndrome that plagues so many follow up albums, but in doing so created something special with ‘The Ice Cream Fox’. On the surface a great musical triumph that ultimately creates what is an incredible album, yet, take the time to listen a little deeper and you are painted a story so rich, deep and somewhat emotionally disturbing, that it is on par with a great film, one that will stay fresh in your mind for a long time to come.

The Ice Cream Fox is available from their bandcamp page for a little over £3.

This review was written and published by me, for the Dover Music Facebook Page.

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