Sunday Special: God’s Hand by Hot Sugar

This is the sort of album that makes me go: “damn, I wish I’d known about this a year ago”. It popped up in my recommended albums section of Deezer, which is a place I don’t explore as often as I should do, and I just decided to put it on one day. This was a good move, it turns out that Hot Sugar’s moving, theatrical brand of electronic artistry is the perfect soundtrack for my travels around the city, and some of the tracks on it are a very vivid listen.

Nick Koenig, better known by his stage name Hot Sugar, is an American producer based in New York, and God’s Hand is his debut album. It came out last year, which means it can’t go on my year end favourite album list, which is a shame (he probably doesn’t mind too much). If I was to throw some terms out of a hat to describe the album as a whole, I’d probably go with futuristic, almost poetic, and at times bleak. Much of the albums production is very sparse

The album got its hooks in me at the third track. ‘Mayday’ is a stuttering, soft blend of kick back percussion and quite anxious sounding electronic noise, which is blended beautifully into something that sounds poignant while building into something that gets the body moving and the mind somewhat lost in its ominous crescendo. This is the overall vibe of the album, the slightly foreboding prettiness, although there are a couple parts of the album where the vibe gets a bit funky, namely ‘Beer Cans and Bubblegum’, and much later on in the album, ‘Pills’. The characteristic, Nile Rodgers-esque sassy guitar become briefly prominent in the latter, while the former has a beat that is a bit more dub in nature than the rest of the album. They’re good tracks, and still have a slight spooky vibe, like reggae music as imagined by skellingtons, but they’re not as ambient as the rest of the album, for better or worse, and have a less soul-stirring feel about them.

By comparison, the rest of the album can sound much more obviously emotional. Another favourite of mine is the next track on, ‘Athena’ sounds seriously alien at points, before reassuring us that we could be in a cinematic cut of a sc-fi movie trailer with its melancholic guitar solo. It’s a good example of when Koenig is at his most original and fresh sounding. On the other hand, he’s not above taking cues from his predecessors: when ‘Do What Thou Wilt’ came on, I immediately thought “Ratatat”, and if you’ve heard the song and were a fan of the latter bands early work, you probably did as well. It’s definitely a nod to his fellow New York electronic alumni, and it doesn’t take anything away from the song, which adds some variety to the album. Although I think I prefer the more original sounding, spooky ghost like more original creations, I appreciate the need for some lighter, more conventional fare to balance out the album properly.

The attractively named ‘Slaughter’ is the next highlight, again an exploration into ghostly sound mixed with smooth, relaxing rhythms. What stands out for me on this track is that unlike a lot of the album, he’s working the whole range of pitch hard in a short space of time. There’s that fuzzy bass which inhabits parts of the album, then a slice of middle range with that spooky pre-chorus trill, then it goes full combination mode on us with some pretty sounding high synths thrown into the mix as well. It’s one of the fuller tracks on the album, and it doesn’t stick around, at under three minutes of menacing beauty.

The remaining songs (‘Vengeance’ onwards’) advance us elegantly to the peaceful conclusion that is ‘You’ll See Them In Your Sleep’, a predominantly guitar based lilt that is still just really pleasant to listen to. It teases the main riff really well, leaving the expectation of it to dangle for a bit before it resolves itself into its soothing, restful manner. It is both melancholy, like a lot of the album, and restful, and it’s another example of the way that sparseness is used to great effect throughout.

I love the album as a whole, but it definitely falls under the category of weird stripped down electronica, even if it is a wonderfully constructed and beautiful, emotive example of that rather made-up genre. Check out the closing track or ‘Athena’ and if you like either of them then there’s more than something for you here. It sounds uneasy, at times nervous, with an admirable degree of subtlety deployed, and conveying those feelings into music is an achievement of its own. It’s been the soundtrack to my autumn.

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