+44

When Your Heart Stops Beating

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Of the two groups that appeared from the ashes of blink-182's 2005 implosion -- the Tom DeLonge-headed Angels and Airwaves and Mark Hoppus/Travis Barker-helmed +44 -- it's refreshing to see that at least one of them (i.e., the latter) realized that moving on from the past didn't necessarily mean turning your back on it. On their debut, When Your Heart Stops Beating, +44 has managed to balance out upbeat rockers and somber introspections to create a record that is thoughtful and composed, yet fun, and almost like the album blink could have made had they stuck together. This is alternative rock derived from guys with pop-punk pasts, but it's much more reserved than expected, meaty hooks and cheeky exuberance not oozing out of every corner. Its sober and meditative qualities aren't completely surprising -- after all, the blink breakup didn't leave ex-members unscathed -- but +44's infectious and stomping first single, "When Your Heart Stops Beating," is a bit misleading since nothing here is quite as immediate as that song. Toned down doesn't mean tedious, however, and the album gets better with each listen. +44's initial focus was on electronics, and though that ultimately took a backseat to guitar-driven rock, it's still present as an undercurrent throughout. This coupled with the clean and tight playing of guitarists Craig Fairbaugh and Shane Gallagher, whose contributions are key to the band's effectiveness, gives +44 a distinct sound away from both blink-182's punk recklessness and Angels and Airwaves' forced grandeur. Bitterness creeps into many songs -- this is definitely a post-band-breakup album -- and tracks like "No, It Isn't" are blatant stabs at Hoppus and Barker's now-strained relationship with DeLonge ("Please understand, this isn't just goodbye, this is I can't stand you"). But not every song is overtly focused on that drama, evidenced in cuts like the summery "Cliffdiving" and the especially lovely electro-piano-based "Make You Smile," which features Carol Heller (briefly a member of +44 in its initial phase). Somber tracks like "Weatherman" and "Little Death" are some of the moodiest songs Hoppus has ever sung, but nothing here feels forced, so it's easy to forgive him when things don't always hit the mark. Plus, he does a much more convincing job fronting a new project than DeLonge; his vocals meld nicely with the sonic structure of +44 to allow the band its own identity instead of just conjuring images of skateboards and Hurley shirts at every turn. Even with its flaws, When Your Heart Stops Beating possesses a surprising vulnerability, which gives the album an understated strength and makes it such an enjoyable listen. This is light-years away from the pretension of Angels and Airwaves, and an unexpected treat from a band that really sounds like it has a future together.

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