Sun Valley

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Indie electronic duo Soulo, who have been releasing albums for Plug Research since 2001, sound more than a little different on their third full-length, Sun Valley. The first reason is that Nate Flanigan, a former full-time member, has moved to the outskirts, contributing on songwriting and instrumentation but leaving the majority of the work to Shawn King and Scott Benzel. Second, and much more noticeably, there's hardly anything "electronica" about them anymore. Instead, the Los Angeles-based group layers organic instruments (guitars, strings, Rhodes, bass, various percussion instruments) and vocals into pieces that, well, sound a lot like full-fledged indie pop songs as opposed to the more ambient approach to their previous work. "Who's Gonna Warm the Sun?," for example, pulls from the Canadian Rock Collective approach (lush arrangements, vocals hidden in the mix, strings mimicking the melodies), and "Holding Pattern" has a hook poppy enough to fit into any power pop catalog. There are even two covers: Bob Dylan's "Let Me Die in My Footsteps" and His Name Is Alive's "Send My Face." While the former, with female harmonies and layered vocal effects, is rendered successfully, the latter unfortunately falters, sounding too much like a forced hymn, the instrumentation just a little too bare. Still, there are some bright moments here: "Monkey" manages to take inspiration from both Sigur Rós and Radiohead without sounding derivative, and "Theme from Social Injustice," which features guitar work from Big Sleep guitarist Danny Barria, incorporates moments that are both pretty and unexpected, a far stretch from the too often predictable chords and lyrical phrases of the rest of the album. These weaknesses mean that despite the focus on individual pieces, Sun Valley plays much better as a whole, something that allows the missteps (the overly emphasized strings, the vaguely emo-nasally vocals) to feel less like errors and more like expected ruts and bumps in an otherwise acceptable record.

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