Sugar Honey by Carla J. Easton - Album Journey #2
Sugar Honey - Carla J Easton
This LP positively drips with 80’s & 90’s pop influences and is utterly unapologetic
about any of it. The drum machine, synths and layered vocals generate nostalgia, without outright copying the sounds or melodies; this is very much Carla’s take on how her songs must sound. She has self produced via her Adventures In Music Fanclub and I think that by doing this she has elevated this work to be something truly CJE. Despite what she claims, it’s not ‘uncool’, it’s one of 2023's coolest releases and a complete triumph of a record.
The LP starts with the steady driving of synths of ‘Never Belong’ and a lyric "I believe in birthdays, and the satisfaction of stolen kisses at night, so I took all my candles out and made a wish to always have you by my side, but I guess the both of use are never gonna compromise, so we'll never belong, we'll never belong..."
The lyrics are fantastic; about feeling alienated and unsure what the future holds, or may have held had circumstances been different. There are multiples of production joy here; the immediacy of Carla’s voice, the cold synths, with bells/chimes contrast with the warmth of layered backing vocals and waves of synth sounds warming up as the track closes out. What a opener.
Sugar Honey’s pure dream pop tropical 80’s keys meld with the sweetest lead & backing vocals, the trick being that Carla is delivering righteous anger in the lyrics. Why the hell should the women of the world be held by fear created due to the power and inconsideration of men? Women should feel safe, secure and as if the world belongs to them too - which it does.
There are lovely guitar flourishes in here too which drift in and out of the mix, adding a bit of slick sauce in the mix.
It has that cutting Bowie lyrical flourish, and a exhibits a feeling of power, lyrically you absolutely believe every syllable when she sings "Bye bye, pack it up and get, get gone, hang tight, stay strong, Girl you had this all along" This is brilliantly contrasted by the lines like "I didn't mean to make you want me, please don't ever touch my body." Glorious dream pop for everyone to enjoy.
This starts with the compressed audio then releases into a fuller sounding mix, with the elements of joy providing a big chorus where the excitement and fun of blossoming love is embraced fully. There's more than a hint of the 80’s/90’s pop/R&B feel (Lauper, Destiny’s Child, All Saints) and the whole thing is not hurt with brilliant lyrics like “champagne headaches & your sun kissed heartbreaks, you're the only drug I wanna take... I love the bad things that we do”, and the fabulous hook line of “I need to feel alive, I need the danger you provide, you tempt me to the other side” it’s a song that makes you want to throw your hands up and move. I may have done this both at home, and at a gig. It's sassy, sexy and sensationally good.
This track that has a wonderful moment as it begins where the vocal and keys are building and then Carla whispers “forever” in your left ear... it feels like you’re living in a music video.
Lyrically this is something Prince would have been more than happy with if he’d written it for himself or The Bangles, and it has that sly sexiness he threads through his tracks too. Another single that’s a complete joy. The little flourishes that pan left and right throughout to pull you in and then… that sax. Unapologetically brilliant choice with a sneaky keys part underneath it that (listen carefully and you'll pick it out), coupled with the layered backing vocals, lifts it to new heights. Another arms up and move song.
Cherry Tree Out FrontA melancholic & beautiful masterpiece of a song. Musically it fits with the rest of
the LP, but is sparse in its instrumentation. Lyrically it traverses the child becoming the parent, and has some of Carla’s most highly relatable lyrics. The line “it’s like the winter got stuck in her bones, so her fingers can’t make the rain fall” really struck me hard as (great lyricists have a knack for doing) it connected to my own experiences of my mum losing her strength and ability to do the very things that defined her. When that snare roll starts its like a trigger in your heart. You’d have to have a heart of stone not to be touched by this track.
Blooming 4 U
Playful, joyful bouncing tune with the drums and keys finding space with the choir to sell & exemplify how “you can’t tame my wild heart… I’m not ever scared of falling… I prefer the never knowing” … it’s all about Carla blooming into herself (and it perfectly represents the attitude of the whole album) and making every choice for herself, with full agency of where she wants to go, and how she wants to be seen.
Again, the band are on fire here, with driving drums to lift you up, while the keys jump in to make their point... lift your hands and enjoy the brass and keys on that break. Chefs finger kiss 😙👌
Starting with phone rings and “hello, hello, can you hear me?” which teases us into the song about a lack of regret in choices (again I’m loving this beautiful boldness) before the funky guitar and bass flit with chimes, synth stabs, and plenty of layered mellotron style sounds… all the while that drum machine holds it together… by the time we get to the final flourish of the chant “I gave it my all” we’re understanding and feeling every thing that she’s learned about herself, and the peace it’s brought her.
Every Little Bit Of My Heart
When you start a song with "Double denim kiss of knees underneath the table, how, this is how it all begins..." moving onto "the biggest mistake I ever made was letting you take every little bit of my heart" by the end of the first section we're into looking back at a broken relationship, the compromises we make, the things we give up, the parts of us we lose in an attempt to make it work...
It's the eternal truth of how do we grow together, but stay ourselves? It's a real tough song that chooses not to shy away from all the little things.
You Made Us
I can’t say this enough; You Made Us is one of the best love letters to a city I’ve ever had the pleasure to hear. The grit and sunlight of Glasgow is beautifully rendered in the lyrics, so much so that if you don’t know the city, I’d think you’ll get a feel for Glasgow… of how much the city is made by the people and history that lives in every fibre of it. Every turn of phrase is not only poetic, it's truthful, and makes the whole song even more beautiful...
"These are our streets..." Indeed they are Carla...
"You're a city built by love..." And this is our anthem.
This has been a favourite of mine since I heard it, probably as it envelopes the whole feeling of the music of my youth. Bowie, Lauper, Prince, The Bangles are all touched upon here and moulded into a sound that’s 100% Carla. Again a slow melancholic start which build with drum machine and synths to bring that sweet sexiness into play, "So baby please if you;re scared of being alone, just call on me, I'll be your weekend lover". The break has another blistering sax that will warm your heart. Yo be fair you’ll probably picture a Lost Boys-esque performance of that solo… and when the backing vocals and high chiming keys come in you'll want to dance... maybe into someones arms. What a way to close the track with "Don't be scared now..."
This is one hell of a way to close out an LP. Carla has said that she felt this co-wrote with Kim Richey maybe didn’t fit with the rest of the record… I say that while it's a perfect contrast to the pomp and glitter of the rest of the LP, it truly feels a part of the same place... it has the feel of an early morning/late night, half awake, sojourn in the moonlight. Carla’s voice is front and centre, without the boisterous instrumentation from the rest of the album. A gorgeous cello pillows her voice as her reflective lyrics ruminating in what it is to be human in the here and now. It’s melancholic and joyful, mournful and ultimately feels hopeful.
Lyrically and musically it’s easy to hear its origins in her previous works like Homemade Lemonade or Impossible Stuff.
Carla J. Easton has only become better at what she does as time has passed. Her ear for melody is stronger, her lyrics have some beautifully honest observations about herself, the world around us, and the love she has for herself, and others in her life.
There’s also feelings of anger, sorrow, hope, gratitude and a level of agency in her own decisions (both in her own life as well as lyrically & production wise) that comes through this as a collection.
It's superb, and shows that Carla is so much more than any label thrown her way. She's complex, clever, loving and a continues to grow as a brilliant writer and musician.
Type of Journey: heading for a big night out or weekend away with your friends. A get together for a Summer Solstice party.
Every Little Bit Of My Heart: Walking through woods on a warm sunlit day.
You Made Us: Walking through Glasgow (what else?)
Sleepyhead: Early morning or late night meander.