by Fred Mills
Reasons to be cheerful, Pts. 819 through 821: The Good Ship Emo, before taking on major label and “Nick At Nite” water, jettisoned a handful of refugees, among them Reuben’s Accomplice; “growing up” means no longer feeling compelled to whine out lyrics cribbed from your big sister’s diary; and brainy, well-crafted pop remains timeless irrespective of year or locale (in this instance, the musical sinkhole known as Phoenix).
The band, in fact, cuts ties right from the git-go on opener “Big Apple, Small Heart,” a noisily anthemic ditty in a Pixies-Sugar vein but with sweeter vocals and without overdoing the soft-loud dynamics thing. Thus hooked, the listener is summarily dunked in a creamy vat of pop nougat: “Lost Sun” sports a compelling sing-songy melody, the kinetic “All Chorus” is a gay, er, merry wedding of XTC and Superchunk, and the electro-fizz of “Act On (Feeling Alone)” channels, swear to god, The Buggles — as leavened by chiming, power-poppish guitars.
RA, formerly a quartet but, for its second full-length, pared down to the duo of Jeff Bufano and Chris Corak, displays audacity in the arrangements, deploying non-rock instruments like strings, xylophone, banjo and pedal steel and bringing in such guest players as Giant Sand’s Howe Gelb, David Bazan (aka Pedro The Lion), Jon Rauhouse (from Neko Case’s band) and album producer Jim Adkins (Jimmy Eat World). This deliberate stretching-of-wings may prompt a backlash among early supporters, as emo fans are notorious for being unable to let go. And among some reviewers the “damned if you do/don’t” angle has already kicked in; one curmudgeon blasted the “maturity level of [the band’s] intended audiences” then turned around to complain about “insipid” lyrics and “oversimplified” music. But to ears more finely attuned to the so-called entirety of rock’s rich tapestry, this album, which touches upon everything from ’60s pop to vintage college rock to classic alterna-nation fare, makes for one of the year’s most improbably addictive listens.
Reubens Accomplice performs Tuesday, May 25, at St. Andrew’s Hall (431 E. Congress, Detroit. 313-961-MELT).
E-mail Fred Mills at email@example.com.