The Venus Trail

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With The Venus Trail -- indisputably 3Ds' best album -- all the insanity, silliness, and in-your-face guitar blasts from the band's previous releases all came together, even more powerfully than before, resulting in an album that managed to equal the Pixies rather than simply following them along. The reason for this sudden leap to greater heights is a bit hard to pin down. There's nothing specifically different or new to mention, yet somehow everything has a new vibrancy, even urgency. Even gentler songs like "Cash None" and "The Young and the Restless" have just a little more edge and feel to them (the former, in particular, has some lovely Xpressway-style guitar work, while the latter has a series of compelling, unwanky solos). As before, one of the band's strongest songs helps to begin things: in this case, the punningly titled "Hey Seuss," where Roughan's whining keyboard fills flesh out another fine combination of arty aggro rock. Roughan continues to take some fine lead vocal turns on songs like "The Golden Grove" and, especially, the wonderful "Beautiful Things," which features a great wistful chorus and neat mandolin strumming from Mitchell; Roughan's bass work, while always quite fine, has a deeper punch to it throughout the record. Though "Man on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown" may have one of the more obvious titles out there, it fits the band's off-center music to a T, while the song itself is another standout, with a powerful, rhythmic chug playing over an unintelligible vocal sample. Trail is a keeper, from start to finish.

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