Opus Mixtum

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Instead of releasing an album every two years or so like most bands, Antietam waited four years after Victory Park to release the double album Opus Mixtum. Granted, that gap isn't as big as the decade-long hiatus that preceded Victory Park, and it's a sign that Antietam is as unpredictable as ever. Opus Mixtum was initially conceived as two separate albums, one a gritty rock album and the other a more eclectic, acoustically inclined set. Yet the two discs of this aptly named Opus work well as one expansive album, with each part balancing the other. Opus Mixtum's first half does focus more on Antietam's harder-edged side: Tara Key's pungent, almost androgynous alto growls and soars, matched by her often ferocious guitar work. Key and the other two-thirds of Antietam channel their on-stage fury into the sleek "RPM," while "Needle and the Eye"'s brusque power makes it one of the band's heaviest moments. Throughout, Key's guitars dominate, whether on "King Me"'s monster riffs and delicate harmonics, or on "Red Balloon Waltz," where she takes Sonic Youth and Dinosaur Jr.'s fretwork back to its Neil Young roots, giving it a bluesy bite. Even with all the rock action, Antietam are too mercurial not to include other sounds, such as the immaculately jangly "Shipshape" and deceptively spacious instrumentals like "Steel G." Victory Park's dream pop leanings are here as well, and are just as striking: "I Know"'s hypnotic but barbed chords recall Throwing Muses as much as My Blood Valentine, and "The Moor" brings Opus Mixtum's first disc to a gorgeous close. The album's second disc is the yin to disc one's yang. From the beginning of "Hasten" to the spacious, slightly spooky spaghetti western theme "Tierra del Fuego," the feel is darker, softer, and lusher. "The Gate Closed" and other instrumentals make up a bigger part of Opus Mixtum's second half, and show off Antietam's way with acoustic arrangements (especially since much of Key's solo work is acoustic-based). The band doesn't unplug and unwind completely, though -- the big guitars return on "You/I" and "Pennants and Flags," an anguished song that underscores Antietam's spiky post-punk roots. As impressively sprawling as Opus Mixtum is, it's tempting to imagine it as an amazing single-disc album. As it stands, the album's intensity never wanes, and even if it's not as solid as Victory Park was, there is a lot for Antietam fans to love here.

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