The Rakes

Ten New Messages

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One of the few new wave/post-punk-inspired bands that keep their albums as concise as their influences did, the Rakes move even farther away from their gloriously raw early singles on Ten New Messages than they did on their first album, Capture/Release. This cleaned-up, slightly subdued sound puts the focus on the Rakes' melodies and lyrics, and for the most part, the band is up to the challenge: "Little Superstitions"' earnest pop shows a newfound sophistication, while "Trouble" and "We Danced Together" only let spurts of punk energy out during the choruses. In fact, one of the songs that sounds the most like their beginnings is actually the most lyrically complex: "Suspicious Eyes" explores paranoia on the morning commute, moving from merely feeling awkward to terrorist fears to feelings of racial discrimination as singer Alan Donohoe, a female vocalist, and an Asian rapper each take a verse. Sonic changes and social consciousness aside, Ten New Messages shows that the Rakes still have the wit that made their first single "22 Grand Job" a standout. Donohoe is a compelling vocalist with an intriguing mix of literate, grown-up smarts and sardonic punk wit, whether he's singing about keeping "the night from falling to pieces" on the Krautrock-tinged "The World Was a Mess But His Hair Was Perfect" or downed networks and dysfunctional relationships on "When Tom Cruise Cries." At times, the risk the Rakes take on slower tempos and subtler sounds doesn't always pay off -- songs like "On a Mission" and "Down with Moonlight" show how much their more dynamic approach is missed. Even if Ten New Messages doesn't offer as much instant gratification as Capture/Release did, it's still an admirable and mostly successful refining of the Rakes' music.

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