Tenth Life

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Tenth Life seems an appropriate title for a band that has stayed on its own track over the years, bandmates Tara Key, Tim Harris, and Josh Madell hitting their 20-year anniversary by maintaining a balance between what's become classic rock in a broad sense, and the underground sound that helped inspire the band in the first place. It's not just a matter of living out a few existences, though: as opening song "Numbered Days" indicates in its title, there's a tension as well between energetic arrangements and often bleak or melancholic sentiments, whether personal or universal. Sometimes it's all in the song titles -- "Basra Bound" is as deft a summary of a trudging, seemingly endless war as much as a lyrical sentiment about having to carry on "but we don't have to say goodbye" -- and other times, it can come down to a closing lyric like "Kick It Hard"'s "Never should have gone so well." A typical lyric from "Better Man" sums up the feelings of frustration that percolate throughout: "Start a fire just to watch it burn/As I waited for the world to turn." Key's guitar tone throughout is a rich, thick chug that's both warm feeling and shot through with a darker edge, an after echo of the impact of the Velvet Underground on Key's own signature sound. Touches like distant church organ breaks on "Something's Gonna Give" and the massed but still understated-sounding vocals of "Things You Can't Explain" -- not to mention the flat-out instrumental "Clarion," with one of Key's best lead melodies, a bit of surging triumphalism that doesn't sound overbearing -- add gentle variety to an album that aims for a general mood and sticks to it, and does so very well.

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