The debut long-player from the San Francisco-based indie pop quartet formerly known as Plush, Stranger to the Pain sees the newly minted Pllush earning their extra letter via a wistful and summery slow blast of hazy, shoegazey goodness that owes as much to the dreamier side of power pop as it does early-'90s slacker rock. Pairing the hazy, pedalboard-fueled sonic might of Slowdive and My Bloody Valentine and the laconic gait of Pavement with the sugary aura of Alvvays, the quartet has crafted a compelling set that plays fast and loose with expectations. Anchored by the sweet/salty croon of vocalist Karli Helm, early standouts like "Elliot," "Ortega," and "Fallout" evoke humid summer afternoons mired in the sad wonder of youth; broken hearts developing their first calluses and teetering on the the cusp of nostalgia. While dream pop is hardly provincial, there's a surfy, West Coast vibe supplying much of the album's current, with the laid-back "Restart" and the quietly soaring "Shannon," the latter of which features Helm's most powerful and vulnerable vocal take, leading the push out into the waves. Elsewhere, the combustive and hook-laden "Stuck to You" suggests formative years spent dancing around the room to the Breeders' Last Splash, while the dreamy closer, "Blue Room," skillfully pairs the overcast longing of Mazzy Star with the controlled atmospherics of Beach House. In blending shadowy, fuzzed-out cinematics with pop acumen, Pllush have developed a distinct voice with familiar overtones, and Stranger to the Pain succeeds because it never panders to either predilection.
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AllMusic Review by James Christopher Monger