Joe Rathbone

Under the Scorpio Moon

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Joe Rathbone has fashioned an interesting if somewhat glib and innocuous landscape on Under the Scorpio Moon, which is his sophomore album. The LP is most interesting in its attention to subtle touches -- treated keyboards, loop- and sample-fed grooves, little blasts of compellingly poetic lyrics -- but Rathbone's idiom is largely a tuneful brand of "rock-lite" that is breezy in melody and polished in arrangement and production. The opener "Angel" plays it straight, casting power pop intentions across a gritty and spiraling guitar groove. "This Is Where I Come From" is a drifting, sweet ballad largely uncluttered by complexity. Nevertheless, the best tracks are those that lash Rathbone's innate tunefulness to unpretentiously avant-pop intentions; "Waiting for the Birds to Fly" is the best track of that stripe, with the ominous and angular "Mercury" close behind it. Oftentimes, though there is something too blandly modern rock or adult alternative about what Rathbone does, and his songs sometimes slip into the background. He has been compared perhaps too favorably to the likes of Elvis Costello and Joe Jackson, but this album does little to support that. At the outside he comes off like a less compelling Pete Yorn on Under the Scorpio Moon; more specifically, he's in the ballpark of smooth rockers like Minibar or Shawn Mullins.

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