Space Mountain

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With production help from Lou Giordano and King Missile's Chris Xefos, Hypnolovewheel makes its entertaining and slightly off-center way through indie rock fun, late-'80s style, on Space Mountain. This was the band's third record and the first to gain wide attention, and deservedly so -- while later releases were even better, Space Mountain makes the correct move of not mistaking humor as an excuse to be dumb. Drawing on a wiry (and indeed Wire-y) approach that translates the friendly-but-aggro approach of American new wave legends like the Embarrassment and Pylon, the quartet spikes the brew with everything from merry surf/thrash ("I Dream of Jeannie") to softly-sung (but not softly sung) paeans to the "Mysteries of the Unknown." Any number of songs barely crack the minute-long mark, drawing the comparisons to the likes of Wire and early R.E.M. even more strongly, but Hypnolovewheel never sounds too much like any particular group to cause irritation -- it's the band's own synthesis, one that works. Though it's not clear who actually sings in the band, whoever the lead guy is has a strong, warm voice with just enough nervous quaver in it to sound just cutting enough when needed -- check out the romantic angst of "Peat Rows," which pulls no punches in smart singalong fashion. "Bronze Bus" actually recalls a bit of David Byrne in the singing, but just a hint, the song itself something of an epic for the band -- over four minutes long! -- and featuring some great rave-up action as it goes, credit to guitarists Ramirez and Hunking both. Other great bits throughout the album: the quote of Van Halen's "Finish What You Started" followed up with a drawled "Van Hagar speaks for me!" and the great backing vocal work throughout from the rest of the band.

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