Making the Grade

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Among its energetic bursts of poppy, punkish energy, Diffuser's 2001 effort, Injury Loves Melody, still clung to vestiges of the band's noisier indie rock past. It made for a more ambitious record, but one also fraught with continuity errors -- Diffuser couldn't decide whether they wanted to go all-out with the pop screech. If that was the case, then frontman Tomas Costanza has finally made the decision and taken the pop plunge. He's the sole songwriter for Making the Grade, and has turned in a completely unthreatening, tinfoil-and-plastic batch of songs about girls and sarcasm, all amped to 11 and akin to the outsized modern rock of types like Lit and Goldfinger. Actually, with perfect pop-punk anthems like "Here's to You" and "New High" rushing past in a blur of pep, catch phrases, and giddy power chords, it's tempting to compare Diffuser to the ready-made mall punk of youngsters like Simple Plan. But Costanza's a little older than those guys, even if he doesn't want to admit it, and that age buffer means his band's decidedly young-skewed music is trashy and immediate, but not simply opportunistic. It's blatantly a product of the now, but Diffuser seems committed to the material, and that's important. The highlight is the unstoppable "Get It On"; it's another entry in the party train of pop songs dedicated to naughty crushes, a locomotive most recently restarted by Fountains of Wayne. Producer/mixer Mark Trombino also deserves mention here, as he's filled in Costanza's songwriting gaps with enormous guitar tones, slick harmonies, and the occasional string section. There's a slim chance Making the Grade will make much of an impact beyond its initial shelf life. But while it's switched on, feel free to bang on the steering wheel.

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