Starting with a massive drum boom, soft acoustic guitar, and woozily sweet massed vocals, Brad Laner's second solo album, Natural Selections, isn't shy about hiding its love for Beach Boys (and everything after) avant pop. As befits Laner's many years working in all kinds of musical approaches, though, this isn't about careful homage as much as unexpected tweaks in expectation -- the almost metronymic percussion on "Throat," a blissfully whined keyboard part on "Brain," these and other elements help keep the album well away from the realm of worshipful re-creation of the past, something Laner has never seemed wholly to favor from the start. Often the key moment in any of Natural Selections' tracks lies in the sudden breaks, never jarringly abrupt but definitely attention-getting, as arrangements shift to solo guitar or orchestrations or something else entirely before returning to the full. Other times it just needs a killer opening touch, like the queasy loop starting "Magnolia Doubles" or the squelchy funk of "Dirty Bugs," to make everything else follow in a similarly entrancing vein. There's also a wry and sad wit at work at many times -- the line "People buy drugs in Lancaster" may sound sweetly winsome but anyone who knows the California town Laner refers to will catch the sense of blasted desperation at play. An undeniably fun touch: Laner's young son Julian singing "Vicky" with a sweet, almost silly, but not simply goofy tinge. Call it the equivalent of Michael Gira's son's appearance on Swans' contemporary album from summer 2010, if a little less sternly crafted.
AllMusic Review by Ned Raggett