Somnambule - Writing About Music

Burnt Sugar ~ The Rites

Distant stars ricochet. Secret whispers echo, betrayed by turntables like a new surrealism. Over almost before it’s begun. (The Rites 1)

Birthed with a one-note thrum on a patient double bass, strings swoop like large hungry gulls, piano glissandi are shattered by distorting voices, the whole mass sways titanically until it’s suddenly stripped back, bare to its original pulse. (The Rites 2)

Clothed in quicksilver conveying a sense of painful intimacy; scree guitar swirls round plucked strings, piano chords beat out insistently, a violin draws diagonal tracks across everything. Like harmolodia on the march. Like a whole host of Dhalgren characters, denizens of a perpetually imploding but vibrantly alive city who've newly formed a marching band and are parading down the main street with the intention of literally bringing the street down around them - to invoke an apocalypse rather than have one visited upon them. (The Rites 3)

Creeping out of the wreckage still strange with the triumph and abandon of the parade, gaining energy with every fresh waking moment. (The Rites 4)

Preceded and abetted by Melvin Gibbs’ bass, coming on funky and determined to stay that way, Vijay Iyer pounding out the keys. After five minutes it all falls away leaving a sustained wavering like the hum of an electronic cloud, a tentative duet of strings and decks ends the event. (The Rites 5)

A too brief, bass-heavy interlude, leaden with the unfulfilled promise of mania. (The Rites 6)

Heavier still, laden with a deep dark weight out of which wells a keening guitar. In the reverberations of this ensemble it’s possible to hear the echo of temple customs, good and bad history, manifold possibilities arcing exponentially out across the darkness. (The Rites 7)

Burnt Sugar come on like a birthing machine for possibility. Never quite sure what they'll produce next - you'd be crazy to ignore them. Impossible to disregard anyway – they come on irresistibly, loud, hectic, wild.

Sky Porch arrives in an already altered state. Skipping at speed/suspended in the air. Racing along/all still. Then the tempo gallops forward - that must be Pete Cosey playing a warped Jack Johnson riff. Returned after all these too, too long years. Things get really ripped apart, things get seismic in a trippy, queasy way. After 17 minutes of this, you've got to feel drenched, renched, reconfigured. They finally come to a rest, but you greedily want it to continue.

As with their live appearance in London recently, there’s a leviathan-like sense of a large mass gathering momentum. Posited as a sweating, straining, feeling alternative to the non-corporeal floodtide of electronica, Greg Tate’s groove-based, improvising, conductioned, yelling, tender, big (massive) band make an unassailable argument for the organic, the electric. Burnt Sugar are a mobile unit – heavy but limber as a panther - seemingly able to tackle any subject at will. The last hundred years is a smorgasbord for this group’s delectation – join the feast.
Colin Buttimer
May 2003
Published by the BBC