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You're Tim Anthonise. You're the lead singer, guitarist and songwriter for Gloritone, one of the Valley's better bands of recent years. You've played touch and go with major-label success, earning and then ending a deal with RCA Records, and you've toyed with more alternative methods of attracting attention by way of your drummer, Scott Hessel, who licked an ice cream sundae from the butt crack of a flunky on the Howard Stern Show. You and your band make strong, tuneful music. But no one seems to be listening. You hear lesser acts on the radio and ponder the vagaries of the music biz as you plan your next move. Do you ease your edges and become a Fourth Eye Blind/Matchbox 21? Or do you hone your craft and accept that your music may never connect with the great sweaty masses?
If Fainter Farther Still is any indication, Anthonise and his bandmates (Hessel and bassist Nick Scropos) are avoiding easy answers, ice cream headaches notwithstanding. The band's new CD -- an expansion and enhancement of tracks originally intended as demos -- is full of inspired songcraft that shows a refreshing sense of growth and depth. Fans of Gloritone's debut, 1998's excellent Cup Runneth Over, will find familiar sounds on the new disc, but what would be crutches in the hands of less motivated musicians feel like stepping stones leading Anthonise and company in a variety of directions. The CD's opening cut, "Swan Dive," is an immediate indication of Gloritone's development. Anthonise's staccato guitar blasts and Kurt Cobain/Perry Farrell vocals make for an angry, defiant tone, giving way to a straightahead chorus that only emphasizes the song's sophistication. The next cut, "Die to Make a Dent," is equally impressive in its reach, pushed by hints of prog-rock rhythms and an energized sense of pensiveness. Neither song would've fit on the comparatively seamless Cup Runneth Over, yet they both sound like definitive Gloritone efforts.
At times, though, this new angle of expression overreaches, especially on the slower songs. "Anesthesia" force-feeds a Calypso kinda beat with knob-twiddled techno, resulting in what sounds like ersatz outtakes from a Porno for Pyros session. And the stagnant "1000 to 1" leans too hard on sagging memories of melodies and chord progressions previously explored. Anthonise is better when he lets his slower tempos take him to less accessible areas, as on "Dear Vesuvius," an acoustic approach to melancholy that lurches toward echoes of Elliot Smith/Nick Drake/Skip Spence introspection.
But the key cut on Fainter Farther Still -- and the clearest evidence that Anthonise and company are headed toward more creative territory -- is the wonderfully complex "When in Rome," a refined pop song that manifests some of Anthonise's most adventurous rhythms and melodies to date. Especially strong are the song's vocal lines and the way they dovetail in and around each other within the confines of unexpected minor chords. It's pop music with an artistic kick, a mindset more bands need to embrace.
That same sense of sophistication could, possibly, apply to Anthonise's lyrics. But it's hard to tell. The singer hides his words in more expressive snarls and wails, making for wiggle room in the translation. Still, weighted references to things like sunspots, roadkill and "voodoo dolls with all their eyes on you" articulate the clear sense of unease implicit in the music.
"Someday is never ending soon," Anthonise offers on "Mockingbird," a song that has the confidence to stick with an initially unattractive chorus, and indeed, Gloritone, a band that once was a local Next Big Thing, appears at times to be waiting for another "someday" that may never happen. If, in the meantime, they continue to make music as self-assured as the better moments on Fainter Farther Still, the waiting may well be the band's most important reward.