After several albums mining the intersection of alt-country rawk and late '80s indie crunch, this Austin act takes a bit of a left turn reminiscent of the Old '97s dive into power pop on Satellite Rides. Gone are the ragged guitars and the thundering drums, in favor of piano-fueled pop and bright hooky strumming that owes more to Badfinger than the Replacements. It's an abrupt departure, and perhaps ill-timed given the triumphant swagger of 2004's The One That Brought You. Which is not to suggest it's without charm, but at this point they're better at bringing the noise than spotlighting the songs. The album's so preoccupied with relational conflict it's possible to read the baker's dozen tunes as a song cycle/concept album.
Indeed, the real problem lies less in the playing which is crisp and catchy than the songwriting, which is unable to rise above the trite subject matter. Taken on their own, tracks such as the lighthearted acoustic shuffle, "Nice of You to Join Us," and the lilting college pop of "Take Me Home," could key any album, but get lost here among all the others pitched at the same tone and tempo. It's a very pleasant album, but far from memorable, in stark contrast to their last effort.
Chris Parker writes about music for Metro Times. Send comments to email@example.com.