A couple of years after North Carolina’s rugged Fetchin Bones ran out of musical hooch, raucous singer Hope Nicholls was drafted by Invisible owner/Pigface ringleader Martin Atkins and took part in his band’s Fook tour, a roving calamity documented on the Truth Will Out album. Continuing their association, Atkins co-produced (with Mark Walk, now of Ruby) and released a record for Sugarsmack, Nicholls’ quintet with former Bones guitarist Aaron Pitkin on bass and organ. Top Loader is a dense, evocative muzz of angry ’60s/’70s psychedelic distortion that never obscures Nicholls’ raspy Janis Joplin-in-the-’80s vocals or the firmly shaped songs, some of which reek delightfully of leftover acid, from San Francisco hippiedom to Roky Erickson brainfry. While the band shifts styles like a restless channel surfer (“Freak” is a danceclub loop; the rocking “B.L.A.S.T.” takes it to the factory floor), Atkins and Walk get it all down with enough subsonic consistency to make the album an invigorating, enveloping experience. “Boomerang” drives straight into the darkness with a sinuous guitar riff and Nicholls’ “metaphysical highway” lyrics, while Sugarsmack grabs hold of a passing Stooges punk groove for “Pissed Off,” inciting her to a thrilling show of extroversion. For contrast, the long, go-nowhere “Seven Seas” patiently absorbs attention like a public access infomercial, giving Top Loader the various cycles needed to complete its unstable mission. “Bring on the UFOs!”
Spinning out of Chicago’s gravitational pull, Sugarsmack re-emerged on Spanish Riffs, five songs (plus tape-chopping “interludes”) clearly produced by Caleb Southern. Singing carefully in this better-focused, more illuminated and conscious-sounding blast of mock aggression, Nicholls balances the angular but restrained atmos-pop muzz of “Acorn” with bursts of unreconstructed wildness, like the sax-tooting “Creme Horn” and the funky feedback of “Fishnet,” that owe equal debts to Pylon and old Butthole Surfers. The EP’s high point, “Stuff,” finds her working the line “I need more stuff!” over in voices that shift from an urgent whisper to a delirious shriek.
Incidentally, there’s an unrelated Milwaukee trio by the name of Sugarsmack that released an album in 1999.