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On the Speakers

Yeah, it's true that indie-rock has always at least adopted the notion that it was smart, like those wallflower high school kids who know it's best to keep their brainy thoughts to themselves. Smart enough that in 1998, some of the albums we think of as the best from that era, if not year, are downright too smart/ironic for their own good.

But the Bay Area's Creeper Lagoon was an exception. They were one of the few bands that debuted in that stifled air-a (sorry!) that dared to dream. No, wait; I'm serious here. They were unrepentant romantics in an era that didn't understand the concept--an era that preferred truth-covered nails, and your skin in my backbone and losers, baby (and you know what to do with them) to guys singing, convincingly, "Crash, here we go / you can face it or erase it / I do believe / we can take it and make it / a wonderful love," and "Chasing Tracy's all I do," then, with fondness, admiration even, "Tracy's rotten all the way through."

The band's self-titled debut EP (1997, Dogday) and full-length follow-up, I Become Small and Go (1998, Nicklebag) earned fans like David Cross, who memorably wore a Creeper Lagoon shirt on Mr. Show, and Spin magazine, which named the group its Best New Artist of 1998. It was, to say the least, an auspicious start.

But with 2000's Watering Ghost Garden EP (SpinART) and 2001's major label debut, Take Back the Universe and Give Me Yesterday (DreamWorks), the band crumbled under the weight of expectations, offering little more than a better version of the tripe that's always sold by the truckload. Where the earlier records took a few listens to really grasp their beauty, no matter how many times one listened to the latter ones, the same result was produced: boredom.

By the time the band recorded the Remember the Future EP (2002, Arena Rock), front-man Ian Sefchick had jumped ship, leaving the ludicrously named Sharky Laguna (who wrote a good share of the band's early material, along with Sefchick) at the helm. Shaken and disillusioned, Sefchick moved to Los Angeles before meeting some guys--guitarist Scott Ford, bassist Dan Horne and drummer Anthony Improgo--who roped him back into playing music. Thus, the release of On the Speakers' eponymous debut EP came late last year, first on the tiny 17 Reasons label before being deemed worthy of legit distribution this month by Universal. Which raises the question: How is it?

The answer is, good. Really good, in fact, if not quite as good as vintage Creeper, even if it sounds awfully similar. The dramatic dynamics are still there: chopped guitar strums becoming squalls when the choruses--replete with candy-glossed melodies--come around. And Sefchick hasn't lost that streak of romantic longing that won us all over the first time around. Opening song "Could I Be Right" is a plea to a woman who wants out of a relationship: "C'mon let's work it out, don't give up and shut down," before reassuring her with: "It hurts to feel anything. ... The heart is just a muscle." The chorus' vocal back-and-forth is as catchy as anything Creeper Lagoon ever released.

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