Ozona [Better Looking]

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Two years after Extended Play hit the British charts, England's Goldrush return with Ozona -- named for the small Texas town where the bandmembers stayed for a day or so while their van, which had broken down in the desert, was being repaired. It's a long haul from their hometown of Oxford, England, which is a cold, wet, dreadfully dreary place, while Ozona is hot, dry, small, and timeless in the only way an American sinkhole can be. The album is purportedly about their sojourn there and back. The band received production and mixing help from Dave Fridmann on a number of tracks, which were recorded in various locations in the U.S. and in the U.K. Goldrush haven't changed their sound significantly over the years, but there is less jangle and more volume this time out. Their blend of British shoegazer pop, ringing folk-rock sonics (reminiscent of the Byrds and Neil Young & Crazy Horse), and wonderfully constructed songs is for the most part their own. These guys seem to have come from the time in the 1990s when Catherine Wheel and Ride were kings, and they have taken that sound and pushed it to the edge and over, where it meets the ramshackle storytelling attitude of the Band, the bright but ever weary Roger McGuinn, the '70s country-pop of Eddie Rabbit, and the laid-back hedonism of the Burrito Brothers. Should be a mess, eh? Well, the end result is just that -- but what a glorious mess.

The album's first cut, "Wait for the Wheels," roars out of the gate with Garo Nahoulakian's guitars blazing. Robin Bennett's voice doesn't seem to be able to match the ferocity of the attack; the hook is clear, and Hamish Tesco's clean yet meandering basslines offer him support, because the musical storm is fierce. This is the hardest track this band has ever recorded, and Bennett's ability to float above the noise -- particularly given the great yet basic drum thud of his brother Joe -- is a minor miracle. Fridmann's production stretches the band to its limit and carries it over. Contrast this with "Let You Down," a shimmering heat mirage of laid-back acoustic and electric guitars, strolling slowly as Bennett's confessional lyric is nearly suffocating. Found sounds and electronic ephemera pepper the middle ranges, but never enough to distract as they texture the sound enough to create a dimension that the bridge can comfortable disintegrate with as the guitars start screaming and roiling. "Each Moment in Time" walks the razor's edge between restraint and excess, but the song's melody is so utterly beautiful that the tension between hook and chaos is balanced precariously but never falls into sophomoric noodling. Ozona is solid -- its songs are the best Bennett has ever written, and the execution is loose enough for the listener to find room inside the warmth and desolation, despite the fact that there is so much going on. Is this the last great album of 2005? Probably. One thing that is difficult to understand is why Goldrush aren't as huge as Radiohead or Coldplay. This one's great; pick it up.

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