The Belle Brigade

Just Because

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The Belle Brigade's Barbara and Ethan Gruska harmonize like the siblings they are, all fight or flight, sweetness and blight, and with a shared vibrato that sounds like it was dialed in via a singularity, but they also possess the kind of old-school, radio-ready craftsmanship that usually takes decades to hone, and their second long-player, the wise, wicked, wild, weary, and unapologetically hook-filled Just Because -- unlike their excellent if a tad over-seasoned 2011 eponymous debut -- sounds like the work of a band and not a committee. Front-loaded with a pair of immaculate, open-road, Los Angeles County gems in "Ashes" and "When Everything Was What It Was," the former a propulsive, train whistle-led paean to the eternally unfair condition of being both lovesick and heartbroken, and the latter a deceptively sweet confection that masks its underlying darkness with Rumours-era Buckingham and Nicks pop acumen, the ten-track album is trim and tidy, but never slight. Melodically, the duo still owe a great deal to the two Pauls (Simon and McCartney), but the production and arrangements suggest a steady diet of Vampire Weekend, Passion Pit, and Tegan and Sara, especially on stand-out cuts like breezy, bright, and polyrhythmic "How I See It," the unapologetically soaring and radio-ready "Everything for a Stone," and the fleeting but highly contagious "Be Like Him." Just Because doesn't break down any walls in its bid for pop/rock superiority, but with voices this pure and earworms this painless it doesn't have to, as the Gruskas have crafted a timeless-sounding collection of songs with contemporary tools, and most importantly, they've done it with finesse.

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