Connoisseur of Ruin

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The second album by Winnipeg rockers the Harlots (not to be confused with the Midwestern noise metal band of the same name) offers a more focused, better produced, and just generally more enjoyable version of the '70s-influenced hard rock of their debut, 2003's Crawl Spaces. The biggest change is that rhythm guitarist Buck Garinger is no longer the group's sole lead singer; brothers Lane Bradley Garinger (lead guitar) and Lee Charles Garinger (bass) pick up equal shares of the vocals, giving the Harlots a textural variety that quite often recalls another '70s-influenced contemporary Canadian rock band, Sloan. Overall, the Harlots are a bit more earnest than the perpetually snarky Sloan, and they take their metal and glam influences straight up and sans irony. The songs, alas, don't have quite the same level of pure pop vigor as the best Sloan hits, but Connoisseur of Ruin is considerably stronger in the songwriting department than the quartet's rough-edged debut. Clean hard rock guitar riffing predominates, but the most effective songs are relatively low-key tunes like "Slaves," which builds from a quiet, melodic verse into a massed vocal chorus perfect for hockey arena fist-pumping.

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