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Arguably, it's the highlight of the JEW canon -- as well as the Bleed track whose construction seems to most bear the fingerprints of guitarist Tom Linton. Throughout the band's recent rise, Linton has suffered as the odd man out. His vocal contributions -- in fact, he was once the group's lead singer -- have become marginalized, and understandably so; DreamWorks didn't want to split the audience's focus between dueling front men with this initial effort. But as "Get It Faster" amply proves, Linton remains the band's ace card. His ability to suffuse the material with an army of plangent guitars, swooning lead breaks, supple sonic touches and a general effort serving as point man in Adkins' aural assaults is invaluable.
Midway through, it's evident that lyrically, Bleed is running heavy in the way of doom 'n' gloom dysfunction. There is a creeping sense of paranoia ("I think the whole room can hear me clear my throat") and fatalism ("Even if your heart would listen, I doubt I could explain") at work, verities that again may point to Adkins' mental state when the songs were written. Still, he completes work on an engaging cycle of relationship songs with a guttersnipe sense of self-absorption.
Even when Adkins' material comes up short, as on the unwieldy "Cautioners" (previously released in demo form on last year's split EP with Jedibiah), he still offers up moments of inspiration. Like the most interesting wordsmiths, Adkins isn't afraid to double back on himself regularly, taking a stand or expressing an opinion in one line, only to question or contradict its wisdom in the very next ("Making my peace/Making it with distance/Maybe that's a big mistake"). It's an element that helps JEW's word play avoid the paint-by-numbers lyrical approach that many of its peers seem to wallow in. In contrast to fellow contemporaries -- the Get Up Kids and Modest Mouse, for instance, who've already shown us the bottom of their tiny bag of tricks -- Jimmy Eat World still manages to surprise on a regular basis.
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Avoiding any mention of the baser parts of his anatomy, Adkins shows that his heart is really the only organ he's concerned with. Overall, Bleed is a largely sexless and soul-free affair. That the record lacks any hint of R&B swagger is hardly a surprise -- Mesa residents have never been known for bringing da funk -- and clearly the disc was intended from the start as a pure exercise in white pop longing and confusion.
Aiding in that effort is a rhythm section whose confidence has grown exponentially with each new album. As a drummer, Zach Lind is not so remarkable for his percussiveness as his sheer intuitiveness. The trapsman locks into bassist Rick Burch's four-string so perfectly that the album's constant tension-building -- its dynamic starts and stops -- comes off with a startling degree of crispness and precision.
Trombino -- whose innate understanding of the band's strengths and weaknesses is paramount to the success of Bleed -- also deserves credit for harnessing the duo's alternately spare and muscular magic. A drummer himself, Trombino is the rare knob-twiddler who indulges every rhythmic nuance; listen to the spotlight Burch's bubbly heartbeat bass is given on the bridge to "If You Don't, Don't"; or the way the dense wash of cymbals is captured on "Hear You Me."
Similarly, Trombino is just as effective at capturing the multiple personalities of Adkins' voice. His singing -- by turns doleful, spastic and confused -- is dizzyingly diverse, yet it sounds truer here than on any of the band's previous long players.
The one, albeit minor, complaint with the record is Trombino's mix. A number of tracks come off too pristine in their execution. And there are several glaring moments when a bit of suss and sloppiness might've served the songs better. The acoustic guitar tones, in particular, are so clean in spots that they border on the sterile. Still, the crystalline quality of the production helps create the necessary atmosphere for the album's feather-light pop confections, so it's a fair tradeoff.
Reinforcing the overall retro feel is Bleed's penultimate cut, "Authority Song." As the title suggests, it's an homage to the John Mellencamp tune of the same name; the riff that threads the song is also a nick of the Coug's "Hurts So Good." Musically, the band returns to the candyfloss Big '80s pop of its youth -- cascading oohs and aahs, timely handclaps -- with a recidivist's glee.
In contrast, the album closes on a decidedly down note with the elegiac "My Sundown." "Said my goodbyes, this is my sundown/I'm going to be so much more than this," croons Adkins over a pulsating lullaby of minor chord sorrow. While it may seem premature, even cheeky, for a 25-year-old to attempt something like "My Sundown" -- though no more odd than a twentysomething John Lennon warbling "In My Life" -- Adkins delivers his tale with such a weighty sense of resignation it's hard not to believe he's about to drift off into the abyss on a mournful cloud of acoustica.