March 15, 2018 Sugar Hiccup – Closure (Album Review)
Named after a song by Cocteau Twins, the Philippine band Sugar Hiccup had also inherited a glaze of the Dreampop sensibilities and Ethereal tendencies of the legendary and influential Scottish band. However, with due respect to its slew of other possible, tasteful musical influences like The Breeders (“Divine Hammer”), Lush (“Light from a Dead Star”), Belly (“Now They’ll Sleep”), Throwing Muses (“Not Too Soon”), The Sundays (“Summertime”), Care (“Whatever Possessed You”), The Wild Swans (“Whirlpool Heart”), and The Lotus Eaters (“Out on Your Own”), Sugar Hiccup was able to produce a kind of music that was also laced and ribboned with their own acquired sense of style – odd time signatures, male-female vocal interplay, swirling guitars, cascading basslines, keyboard flourishes, and cryptic lyricism.
Formed in 1994, in Metro Manila, Philippines, by Melody del Mundo (lead vocals, guitar), Czandro Pollack (guitar, vocals), Mervin Panganiban (drums), and Russell Dacasin (bass), Sugar Hiccup was one of the forerunners of Filipino New Wave/Indie Pop music in the 1990s. In their prime, during the decade, the quartet got to release two albums, 1995’s Oracle and 1998’s Womb, both on BMG Records. Unfortunately, in 2001, del Mundo immigrated to the United States, where she formed another band, Stella’s Notch, but that is for another story. This left the rest of the band to soldier on in the ensuing decade, albeit sporadically; and in 2007 took in a new singer, Beatriz Alcala, and came up with a new album, 2008’s Of Tongues and Thoughts. The new incarnation of the band was, however, short-lived, disbanding in the year that followed.
Then, in 2015, del Mundo, Pollack, and Panganiban–joined by their longtime friend and music comrade Iman Leonardo (aka the quirky singer-songwriter Prank Sinatra) on bass duties–decided to give Sugar Hiccup its proper closure by recording an EP, which consequently developed into a full-length affair. After a couple of years, Del Mundo went home to the Philippines to finish the new materials with her bandmates and also to play some gigs.
On December 30, 2017, they launched the result of the long-overdue project at their final concert held at the 12 Monkeys at El Pueblo in Pasig City, and then released the album in February 9, 2018 via D Chord Records/Curve Entertainment.
Aptly titled Closure, Sugar Hiccup’s fourth and final oeuvre starts with the ominous-sounding, Waltz-driven, and piano-led “Andaluscia,” which treats again the band’s attuned listeners to the trademark blend of del Mundo’s heavenly voice and Pollack’s playful guttural baritone and exudes faint echoes of “Golden Age” by Identity Crisis – another, much older Philippine band whose music resided in the same sonic sphere. Following next is the garland-adorned, moonlit swing, and soft sway of the lullaby “Saturnine Nevermore,” sending the mesmerized listener to Heaven or Las Vegas and/or to a daydream of milk and kisses at the Four-Calendar Café. Panganiban’s subtle, Tribal rolls then take the lead in “Brushed Away” as Del Mundo follows with her comforting voice and echoing hushes; and together, Sugar Hiccup goes on a spacey, melancholic trip to infinite sadness with no sense of sin… a seeming tribute to the late Caroline Crawley of Shelleyan Orphan (“Dolphins”).
Moving on to a more serene aural dimension – the acoustic, dreamy, and syncopated rhythm of “Angels” swings like a pendulum in the stillness of the night. The subdued grace then builds up and climbs onto ecstasy as “Dolour” plays next, with a splash of Flamenco guitars and superb contrapuntal vocal harmony that expresses both joy and agony.
Another rustic piece, “Forbid Me Lullabies” is a hark back to Sugar Hiccup’s early works, in which del Mundo displays her total reign over her delicate voice, which has the ability to either soar as high as she wants it to or simply floats midair like immaculate cotton blooms.
With “Silly,” Pollack and del Mundo serenade the listener with their heartrending duet, with the song’s cinematic rhythm and melody recalling the 1995 movie Before Sunrise, particularly the original soundtrack’s “An Ocean Apart,” written and performed by the lead actress, Julie Delphy. The sinister “Lala” is another throwback to Sugar Hiccup’s beginnings, a seeming sequel to the band’s trademark song “Five Years,” in which del Mundo coos and vocalizes, scaling effortlessly the highest reach of her pitch. “Ascend” then sends chills to the spirit – somber… almost funereal… a bit Dead Can Dance, a tad Enya and Enigma… Gothic… surreal.
Finally, del Mundo, Pollack, and Panganiban close their swan of an album with the rather upbeat, melodic, beat-driven, and interestingly syncopated “What’s Inside,” whose alternating 5/4 and 3/4 time signatures certainly up their trademark rhythm a few notches higher and whose saccharine sweetness leaves the listener surely craving more. However. What’s next? Who knows? Is this really the last? Why? Just because. But definitely when a door closes, another one opens.
For the time being, Closure was a fitting and respectable discography closer for one of the bands that defined Filipino New Wave/Indie Pop music. It both sonically illustrated what made their music originally great and also reflected the development and musical maturity that each of the members has achieved over the years. Now that del Mundo, Pollack, and Panganiban had already closed the Sugar Hiccup chapter in their respective lives respectably, each is now ready to write her/his own new stories to tell. Del Mundo is back again in the U.S., gigging again as a solo act until she finds new like-minded musicians; Pollack resumes his recording sessions with his other longtime side band, Eulavye; and Panganiban returns to his current band, Imago. For the meantime, relish Sugar Hiccup’s music one last time with Closure. CrypticRock gives it 4 out of 5 stars.