Dead Confederate: Sugar

TAO/Old Flame

Sophomore albums require a balance between reprising the debut and breaking fresh ground. On Athens quintet Dead Confederate's second full-length, Sugar, too much of the former distracts from progress made on the latter. The band's 2008 debut, Wrecking Ball, offered brooding neo-psych driven by waves of swelling guitar distortion stretched to exhaustion. While the latest brings welcome conciseness (only two of the 10 songs linger past four minutes) and warmer production, more like maple syrup than motor oil, most tracks ooze along in the same stoned gait. It might've been more palatable had the group not included two up-tempo showstoppers, "Quiet Kid," which swirls and churns like early Smashing Pumpkins, and the kinetic "Mob Scene," bristling with crunchy, Southern rock riffage and Stooges-like belligerence. Along with folky, acoustic ballad "Run From the Gun," they point to a new direction that exposes the limitations of the rest, while simultaneously teasing anticipation for the next release. (3 out of 5 stars.)