Fun with Atoms

Northern Distortion

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Fun With Atoms is kind of a surprising addition to the Black Vinyl Records roster, as the band's brand of chunky-chord power pop has more to do with the Replacements or prime Soul Asylum than the more polite jangle of label owner Shoes. The album title is right on, as the guitars are suitably loud and crunchy -- kind of surprising, since the album is produced and mixed by Shoes' Jeff Murphy, whose own albums are nowhere near this noisy. Guitarist Rick Smith's songs are uniformly catchy, and he has a particular knack for bridges that modulate, go into different time signatures, or otherwise vary the songs, a facility that frustratingly few power pop songwriters seem to manage, and his gruff vocals are a nice change from the usual Chris Bell-style tenors. The choruses and riffs are memorable, and Murphy and fellow Shoes singer-guitarist Gary Klebe add their trademark high harmonies to several songs. The soaring "Turn and Go" is the highlight, sounding like Hüsker Dü re-recording a classic Big Star tune. Not everything is that immediately appealing, but Northern Distortion is one of those albums that puts the power back into power pop, always a good thing.

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