Eureka California

Versus

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Over the course of two albums, the Athens, Georgia duo Eureka California staked out a place as breezy, fast-working punk-poppers with a foot in the twee pop world and a healthy obsession with the slacker noise of the early to mid-'90s. Their third album, Versus, is still firmly in that realm, but singer/guitarist Jake Ward and drummer Marie A. Uhler have upgraded in two important ways. Firstly, their songwriting keeps getting better. The first two albums were catchy and fun, occasionally very sticky. This time around, almost all of them sound like half-forgotten gems from the '90s or tracks that would brighten any modern noise pop mixtape. Secondly, the sound of the album is worlds ahead of the first two. It's their first done in a real studio and the production by Hookworms' MJ gives them a huge sound, with Ward's guitar nothing short of immense. It sounds like he dropped his amp down a flight of stairs and shook everything loose in all the right ways. Another guitarist may have taken it into the shop for repairs; Ward cranks it up all the way instead. It's fuzzy, thick, and heavy, and threatens to drown every song in gooey noise. Luckily, Uhler is up to the task of battling Ward's noise and their duel is a thrilling thing to hear. Ward has to up his vocal game too, something that only gives the album more urgency and drama. Songs like "Cobwebs on the Wind" and "Sign My Name with an X" jump out of the speakers, ready to bludgeon everything in sight with frantic abandon. Others have a less energetic approach. "Realizing Your Actuality" and "I Will Write Mine Over Potomac" have some resigned restraint, though the guitar never stops sounding like a deranged and broken beast of some kind. Only the acoustic songs on the second half of the album give the listener a breather. Overall, the album is a giant leap forward for Eureka California, giving the duo's fun songs and peppy outlook a welcome dose of slime and live-wire energy. Versus is a thrilling, skillfully done makeover that took a good band and pushed it in the direction of great.

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