Guano Apes

Bel Air

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It's been eight years since their last album, and the glamorous Sandra Nasic on the cover looks nothing like her younger, baggy-pants-sporting self (though, as many observers noted, she does look a lot like a lot like Sarah Jessica Parker). The title is also glamorous, but is the music? Well, kind of. At least it doesn't have the raw energy of "Lords of the Boards," though there was always more to Guano Apes than just aggro-rock; they'd fully embraced their more melodic and catchy side by 2011. The songs are still plenty powerful, but instead of start-stop rhythms, the guitar riffs are now accompanied by steady bass drones traceable to Placebo, and vaguely dancey beats that call to mind the Killers. None of this is groundbreaking, and, indeed, Bel Air is basically aggregate alternative rock. Stylistically. It's also alternative rock deluxe, simply by the strength of its songwriting. All songs follow the same unsophisticated template, and share the same tense, mildly angsty vibe, but they're still just plain good, with each tune chock-full of dynamic rhythms and smash hooks which drive the point home. Bel Air is so simple it feels almost defiantly primitive, but this is actually the sound of a band that doesn't need anything but the basics to put together a killer rock number. They've drifted close to later-day Skunk Anansie, in fact, and this is as good a compliment as any alt-rock band could wish for, though Nasic loses to Skin on lyrics, which are full of clichés, down to the "fire in my eyes" line in the eponymous track, which was trite even in the ‘80s. Bel Air does actually call to mind dramatic ‘80s rock a little, only the sound is filtered through two decades of abrasive post-Nirvana to produce what is the band's most streamlined and mature record to date.

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