In a world where Metallica headlines radio festivals, it's hard to believe there was once a time when the Pixies battled for airplay and bands like Depeche Mode and Echo and the Bunnymen ruled the alternative scene. These days anger is a gift, and the sweeping, introspective siren songs of yore are just a distant memory. In other words, the time is ripe for the revival of ambitious, emotionally charged alterna-pop.
Paloalto may not be mining new territory on its self-titled debut, but the L.A.-based quintet has delivered an album's worth of plaintive gems harking back to the glory days of 120 Minutes.
Still, while titles like "The Mayor and the Seizure Pills" may conjure up images of Morrissey and the Smiths, the band actually draws inspiration from sources like vintage U2 and Radiohead.
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In fact, there are moments where it would be easy to dismiss Paloalto as Radiohead lite. Singer James Grundler's voice possesses some of the front-man-on-the-verge-of-a-nervous-breakdown quality of Thom Yorke's, and songs like "Swim" could pass for outtakes from Pablo Honey. At the same time, "Throw the Brick" -- with its expansive verses and Bono-esque falsetto -- is more than reminiscent of Joshua Tree-era U2. If it's easy to spot the influences, it's only because these relative youngsters have obviously done their homework. They've taken the huge choruses, chiming guitars, pensive lyrics, excellent dynamics, and sincerity of their idols and constructed their own version of graceful, intelligent, heartfelt pop.
That's the beauty of Paloalto: the rediscovery that angst can be both elegant and eloquent, that beauty and longing still have a place in the musical landscape, that in the hands of skilled songwriters, subtlety can be just as powerful as bombast.
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