Cartman

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The debut album from this Australian quartet has all of the highbrow pop qualities of fellow countrymen such as the Whitlams and Crowded House. Pretty and instantly infectious is the opening "If I," which mixes the vocal leanings of Ray Davies and Neil Finn with some moderately hard power pop rhythms. Another strong point to the song is how the melody is completely flushed out, not just used as an afterthought. "Shock" brings to mind a less-experimental Bush. The harmonies by Joe Hawkins and Cain Turnley tend to work well, but the song nearly gets lost in a guitar-saturated bridge. "George" is the first of numerous stellar songs, resembling a Pulp B-side circa "His and Hers." Its mid- to down-tempo arrangement is similar to an upbeat Cure. One of the strong points of Cartman is the ability to morph from a '90s rock arrangement to sounding like a '50s rock group on "Nobody." Although sounding modern, the handclaps and initial guitar riffs evoke that old rock feeling. When the group takes it down a notch with acoustic instruments, they simply can do no wrong. "Got No Reason" would fit perfectly on Tom Petty's Wildflowers album with its transient theme. "Now it's time to say goodbye to 100 faces," is just one of its lyrical images lending to the idea of wandering. Another acoustic track is the folk-pop on "Song for Absent Friends." But Cartman works best when working a bit fast, especially during the absolutely gorgeous, Replacements-style "Drive." "One You're Without" has a stop and start structure to it, going from a '60s-style Kinks introduction to a galloping guitar rhythm. The album's title track is ideal summer driving music with a series of bombastic guitars over some tight harmonies. The ascending and descending bassline is the song's key, though, keeping it on the nearly perfect musical path. One problem with the song, though, is its length. At nearly six minutes, it's difficult to maintain the intensity without being overly repetitive. Cartman manages to cope quite well for nearly all of it. Rounding out the dozen titled songs is "Toone," which has a Beatles color to it, especially if led by Paul McCartney circa "Hey Jude." A line from "Today" seems to fit the album's description perfectly: "Just sit back and enjoy the high!"

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