Love Love Love

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Soft rock got a bad rap back during its original run in the '70s. At the time nearly everyone seemed to have lost the plot entirely -- the whole society adrift in flaky spirituality, a nasty cultural hangover, and every manner of self-satisfaction. Whether it was a fair impression or not, soft rock seemed tainted with the same brush, and critics, perhaps touched with the queasiness of the era, often decried the music as the flimsy, cloying antithesis of rock. Over ensuing decades "soft rock" became something of a shorthand insult, an easy way to dismiss artists who worked at the most laid-back end of the pop spectrum. Love Love Love, however, is proof positive that it need not be mistaken for wimpy or anemic music. The debut album from the Graves is a tender, resplendent, subtly skewed take on the frequently maligned genre, retaining all its unmistakable hallmarks, but tweaking the formula in a variety of interesting ways. Centered around the songs of Greg Olin, the band, a "family of friends, lovers, and friends of lovers' lovers," brings a loose, communal spirit to Love ("campfire baroque," FILMguerrero delightfully -- and accurately, in light of songs such as "O'Connor Pass" and "How to Fake an Indian Summer" -- labels it). Plenty of space is given over to the serene and guileless ("Calm Me Down," "Show Girls Love") and soothing pastoral odes of earthy, unvarnished gorgeousness. On the other hand, the band consistently messes with the conventions of the genre, rotating expectations 180 degrees on songs like "Modern Love Is a Killer" and "Evil Is You," in which love comes either uneasily or not at all, while the music lulls you into glowing contentedness. On "Dark Hair Is Cool Too" (perhaps not accidentally a contorted mirror image of America's "Sister Golden Hair"), the sunburned guitars impeccably echo the toasted lacquer of '70s El Lay. The perfect sideways grin, it epitomizes Love Love Love's charming subversiveness.

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