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Sunday, April 20, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 60.0° F  Mostly Cloudy
The Daily

THE BIN

Sugar Stems: Can't Wait
(Screaming Apple Records)


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On 2010's Sweet Sounds of the Sugar Stems, this Milwaukee band proved that they could create an entire album of songs about love - finding it, losing it and doing stupid things for it - without resorting to syrupy clichés. Leader Betsy Borst and crew do it again on Can't Wait, whose wide-eyed romantic plaints have a wounded edge.

On "Love You to Pieces," Borst shares sad verses about bubblegum and birthday cake. ("I chewed it up, I spit it out," she sings of the latter.) One of Drew Fredrichsen's concise, immaculate guitar solos carries the song across a key change and back into Borst's swaying, lovelorn vocal melody. Opener "Greatest Pretender" shows that the band still like swift, bouncy rhythms, even if they don't rock them all that hard. My one complaint is that the Stems could occasionally toughen up their sound without sacrificing their charm.

Still, there are worse things than sounding like prim companions to Wisconsin garage-rock ruffians like the Midwest Beat and the Goodnight Loving. And how much punch can you expect when the album cover spells out the band's name in worms? The tidy craft of Can't Wait proves that rock 'n' roll revivalism cleans up nicely.

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