Strength in Numbers

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Those who've ridden through the night-cloaked landscapes of Calla's last four albums will find themselves in familiar territory on Strength in Numbers. A few key things have changed, though. The electronic bells and whistles (samplers and the like) have been pushed to the backburner, and the angular, Interpol-influenced guitar work of Collisions has been, for the most part, discarded. And in this case, change is good -- Strength in Numbers is one of Calla's least derivative, most developed albums to date. And yes, it's an intense listen. Calla makes the kind of throbbing, cathartic rock that's best served with a shot of whiskey and some heartache; the oily, creeping guitar licks on "Sylvia" and the dripping reverb and creepy, heart-worn lyrics of "Defenses Down" are the perfect accompaniment for despair. But there are points when lead singer Aurelio Valle's love-lorn lyrics attain a strange kind of brightness. "Rise" sparkles with Latin-infused guitar work even as Valle moans that he has "beaten on a cold, dead horse," and the sly, dangerous rockabilly guitar work of "Malicious Manner," slow as it is, makes it one of the album's most rousing tracks. Moments like these are lacking halfway through the album, though; Valle's cracked vocals, Pete Gannon's greasy guitar work, and Wayne Magruder's inexorable percussion grow nigh on lugubrious once "Le Gusta el Fuego" rolls around. These are unflinching urban sketches of love gone awry, and Calla does them justice.

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