Range Anxiety

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Unlike many bands who magically lose everything that made them good when it comes time to record and release their second album, Twerps' sophomore effort delivers almost exactly the same amount of scruffy indie pop charm as their self-titled debut. Now part of the Merge family, the Australian quartet still seems intent on sounding like a Flying Nun band circa the mid-'80s, with all the jangling simplicity, direct charm, and hooky songcraft that entails. Range Anxiety is a great second album that reinforces the group's many strengths, ups the quality of the songs, and sounds a little more confident and powerful. Kicking off with a five-plus-minute ballad that shows off their quietly tender side ("I Don't Mind"), the album alternates between uptempo, almost rambunctious songs like "Back to You" and "Simple Feelings" and more sedate midtempo fare that lets some melancholy creep into the set. These are the songs that the band sounds most at home performing, with vocalists Martin Frawley and Julia McFarlane (especially on the hit single-sounding "Stranger" that bops and weaves like early Go-Betweens) transmitting just the right mix of bravado and sadness as the band slots right into the heartbreak groove behind them. The few songs that fall out of the record's pattern are interesting diversions, with the moody instrumental "Fern Murderers" providing a moment for a deep breath, and the two slightly off-kilter songs that end the album show the band taking some chances. "Love at First Sight" is a spare, singsong lament sung by the bandmembers as if they were deep into a beer-soaked night and "Empty Road" is a rhythmically choppy, jaggedly strummed song that takes a long time to reveal itself, but when the unison vocals kick in and the song picks up a bit, the dramatic buildup really pays off. These are the kinds of chances a band often takes on a second album; the left turns and tweaks all work really well here and make the album a slight step forward for the band. Still buried neck deep in love for Flying Nun, still snappy and poppy, but just a little bit weirder, a little more powerful musically and emotionally, and a little more satisfying for the incremental change.

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