Album Review: Hudson Mohawke – Cry Sugar

[Warp; 2022]

Hudson Mohawke is back with his first album in seven years – and it needs no introduction. It quickly elbows its way into your mental space through the same kinds of maximalist sentiments and styles that made the Scottish producer into one of the architects of popular music in the 2010s thanks to his work in TNGHT and with Kanye West on Yeezus. Considering the long gap between albums, you might wonder why Cry Sugar doesn’t immediately show a ton of progression from HudMo’s earlier albums, but, as with all albums that keep pulling you back in, the augmentations become evident once you’ve managed to catch your breath and return ready to appreciate the finer details amidst all the overt energy.

Where Cry Sugar excels over HudMo’s previous albums is in the scale of its emotion. The producer has been filling his time recently in his adopted home of Los Angeles with some intriguing pastimes; one is having 7am cookouts outside nightclubs to feed the bleary-eyed ravers and another is attending a painting class specifically for music producers. These things might seem quite abstract in their relation to music, but in listening to Cry Sugar the tendrils between these activities and his musical output seem to come clear; it’s a record for the people who want to block out the outside world and focus on releasing the strange and unsettling feelings out of their bodies through pure expression.

These are party tunes that are all about the moment – it might lean on well-established genres like happy hardcore, jungle and techno, but it’s not greatly nostalgic. Throughout there’s an air of joyous nihilism; you know that the outside world is steadily crumbling, but while you’re pinned down by HudMo’s every insistent beat you can just forget about it. 

The opening run of tracks is a breathless run of non-stop energy and rushes of colours. The tempo only slows when HudMo wants to get weird and warped, stretching vocal samples like putty – akin to what’s he’s doing to your brain with his unforgiving rhythms – and dot the scene with deranged sparkles. This opening segment builds to “Bicstan” where warped vocals swing back and forth with demonic glee that makes you wonder if they’re just a by-product of whipping your neck around too much. Following this comes “Stump”, one of the periodic slow tracks that allows you to chill for a second and allows HudMo to show off his cinematic ambitions by producing a soundscape that suggests an epic view over a smog-smeared city scape. 

HudMo then ushers us into the second act of the record, showing off more gears than the pure mayhem that he clearly loves the most. This begins with the playful “Dance Forever”, the melodic sample “I wanna dance forever” complemented by zig-zagging synths but undermined by powerdrill-like whirrs – once again it feels like the outside world trying to encroach on a place of pure mindlessness. He Frankensteins a series of different vocal samples into the quaking and unsettling “Bow” then dashes back towards euphoria for the luminously pinwheeling major chords of “Is It Supposed”. 

Here at the mid-point of Cry Sugar it feels as though HudMo has started to lose the curatorial thread and things are just being jammed in. Regardless, while the experience of the album may not be finely crafted, leaving it likely that plenty will tune out at some point in the 19-track, 63-minute run, each song individually brings much to enjoy, and, if you want to embrace the chaos then there’s plenty more to come.

There’s another emotional melt-down in the gorgeously arranged sermon for the apocalypse “Lonely Days”, which brings an end to another ‘act’. After that, you’d better have your head screwed on because he takes us from the plinking pop-soul of “Redeem” headfirst into the upbeat electro of “Rain Shadow” – it seems to happen smoothly, but that has more to do with the rapidity of the sequencing than genuine cohesion. “KPIPE” then comes completely out of left-field; a slow, mournful composition that sounds like a forlorn group of lost aliens singing to the starlight for salvation – it’s a standout not just because it puts party proceedings on an unexpected pause but because its eerie beauty is imagination-sparking. 

He quickly brings us back to the dancefloor with “3 Sheets To The Wind”, shifting back and forth between uplifting soul samples and rumbling low-end beats, resulting in a song that feels like waking up with a heck of a hangover where you can only remember random snatches of the night before. From there we jump from chopped-n-screwed soul to redemptive techno to glistening pop instrumentals and beyond into the album’s beautifully polluted sunset that is the slow-burning closer “Ingle Nook Slumber”. 

Suffice it to say, there’s a hell of a lot going on in Cry Sugar – arguably too much, as some people will surely complain. Trying to put it into words is futile – the best encapsulation of the mania and joy of the album is the video for “Bicstan” starring Patti Harrison, who also co-directed with Alan Resnick. Within the clip, there’s Harrison shining (as ever) in her magnetic physical performance, a basketball player scoring endless buckets, broad sitcom humour happening on the sidelines and it’s topped off by a heady dose of gross-out comedy – all soundtracked by the manic “Bicstan”. These things are just jammed together with only a vague semblance of sense – but sense doesn’t really matter, the goal is pleasure in the moment and apathy for anything exterior. This seems to be Hudson Mohawke’s overriding goal with Cry Sugar and while it certainly won’t work as a whole for everyone, there’s almost guaranteed to be moments that transcend for any kind of music listener.