36 Cents an Hour

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Just dramatic enough, just artistic enough, Dart created an understated treasure with 36 Cents an Hour, steering clear of most independent music trends in America and the U.K. of the early to mid-'90s to create something that couldn't quite easily be boxed up. Guitar pop? Shoegazing? Strings and piano? Indie rock? All of the above, with often striking results. Focused around the core songwriting duo of Rick Stone and Lauren Axelrod, the London-based part-American quartet benefited from both Stone's excellent production abilities and the passion everyone brought to their performances, which infused their takes on the material with life and brightness. Even something that sounds like it could be a nod to the times -- the shifting loud/soft dynamics of "Bugger," for instance -- gets tinged with the group's own aesthetics, thus Stone's Michael Stipe-tinged singing and the chorus' blurred feedback wash instead of brute noise. References and reminders to other groups and songs crop up throughout, but the way that Dart incorporates them all into an overall package is the core to its success, whether it's the hint of the jangle pop of the Smiths or the Sundays or the cutting, gloomy theatricality of Codeine. When the group tones things down, once again an effective blend of sources is achieved; "10 Below" touches on everything from Bob Mould and Mark Eitzel's slow burning passion to the Cocteau Twins' way around elegant arrangements. Stone's singing is never histrionic even at its most passionate, favoring quieter but no less powerful approaches; his signal work on the miniature epic "All the Way Home" is one highlight of many, matching the sudden bursts of feedback and violin near perfectly. Ending with the gentle "Concussion" shimmering away into the middle distance, 36 Cents an Hour is good stuff indeed.

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