Love's trajectory is rarely straight, which is why most romances end in tears, but the ineffably upbeat Stroke 9 refuse to cry, preferring to smile through the pain. Their Last of the International Playboys album is awash in failing relationship numbers and break-up songs, each underlit by the band's glowing music, and underscored by the lyrics so true to life vignettes. "It's Curtains for You!," Stroke 9 never actually declare on the set's opening track, instead tartly waving goodbye and good luck to love. Opening in an atmospheric swirl of acoustic guitars, soaring harmonies and rumbling drums, the song whirls straight into shiny, jubilant pop. "Feel the Summer" switches perspective, no longer hard done by, they're the ones doing the leaving here, amidst a wave of jangly, chiming guitars. "Scream," in contrast, crosses a C&W tinge with luminescent pop, but before the band walk out on this girl, the song swells to its emotional climax amidst plush orchestral overdubs. With all these failed relationships behind them, on "7 Year Itch" Stroke 9 try to salvage the next one by starting over in a new town, coaxing their love to accompany them with an anthemic chorus and a breezy alt pop/rock backing. No matter the complications, the Stroke aren't willing to go it alone, because they can't start a revolution on their own, as they expound on the exhilarating "The Yeah Song," an infectious singalong that brilliantly blends punk rock, new wave and the guitar chops of the Who to lethal effect. Perhaps that will be the band's next single; the first, "The One" is just as catchy, a careening ride through pop-punk, and a love song to boot. "Who Am I" is more intricate, with glowing guitars streaming over a dance-flecked rhythm, while Luke Esterkyn toasts out his inner turmoil. That number has real emotional caché, as does "Duality of Man," an alt-Southern rocker that soars nearly as high as "Freebird." The album ends with the torrid ballad -- the title track -- the perfect finale to this iridescent set. Never wallowing in self-pity, no matter how downbeat the situation, Stroke 9's pop-flecked music laces the songs with optimism, and in the end they struggle back to their feet to
face the world anew.