The debut from California pop underground tunesmiths Meow Meow begins with the crackling of the radio dial. This has been done before, but instead of trailing off into a pretentious wash of post-rock noise passing for a well-written song, it does the exact opposite. Lush harmonies, a love of melody, and old-fashioned pop sensibilities permeate Snow Gas Bones, bringing to mind alternative rock heroes like the Posies, the Boo Radleys, and Spiritualized. There are hypnotic seven-minute epics ("Finis"), slices of pop perfection ("Sick Fixation"), and delicious balladry on the closer ("Wear You Down"), but -- and this is not necessarily a bad thing -- one would be hard-pressed to find anything truly groundbreaking about the material. What sets the band apart from its mentors, and keeps this retro-tinderbox from exploding, is guitarist Kirk Hellie's heavily processed guitar. He wields it like a matchstick, threatening to burn every sweet, harmony-laden chorus and melodic bridge into a smoldering ruin. It's this reverence for psychedelia that allows the album to transcend complete alt-rock facsimile. These are meticulously plotted-out pop songs that reveal surprisingly complex layers of sound. "Amaurosis," with its descending melody and ghostly vibes, sounds like a cross between Pink Floyd's "Nobody Home" and Portishead's Dummy filtered through Black Sabbath's "Planet Caravan," all the while waiting to implode its middle section in a deft nod to Goldfrapp's equally sonic "Lovely Head." It's awfully hard to describe Meow Meow without comparing them to the bands that have so obviously inspired them. This is not to say that the group lacks originality. It's just that the idiom in which they choose to work in is so well-documented, mined, and distinguishable that references become adjectives. A record like Snow Gas Bones would have won the group legions of fans in the early '90s, and a single like "Sick Fixation" would probably have ended up on a slew of period "hit" compilations. However, with groups like the Darkness stoking the flames of the last century's predawn glow, Meow Meow, who are better than 80 percent of this era's so-called indie pop bands, may surprise some people by making that fire roar.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger