Male Bonding: Endless Now (Sub Pop)

Male Bonding debuted with last year's great Nothing Hurts, a noisy record with a precise ear for melody that cut through the overall din. Economical guitar hooks roared with layers of distortion, and with sing-along verses bubbling in and out of intelligibility.

When pop records feel that grimy, it's a bit thrilling. But Nothing Hurts had its built-in core audience, and it was hard to imagine that audience growing much. Lovers of power pop would be turned off by its veil of murk; aficionados of uncompromising noise would find it a bit twee.

For Endless Now, the din is largely gone, and it's the right choice. Nothing Hurts clearly wanted to be a radio record, despite its own dystopic veneer, and in some ways, the band's edge feels more keenly deployed here; witness the extended grinding guitar passage in the latter half of "Bones."

The Male Bonding of Endless Now belongs on a double bill with, say, Telekinesis more than opening for No Age. The band's got an aerodynamic pop sensibility that's best served by anthemic rave-ups like "Before It's Gone" or "What's That Scene." In spirit, they're not experimentalists; they're heartthrobs.

That's clear from the vocal tics on "Can't Dream," which are sugar-sweet and seductive. Those moments are where the band shines brightest. Yet on such a short record, every song should feel essential, and not all of these do (see "Channeling Your Fears"). Still, this one's a pop gem.

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