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The full-length debut by New Jersey's Paulson is a bit of a puzzler at first, but a couple of listens reveals how the group mixes seemingly disparate influences into a surprisingly cohesive whole. Paulson is first and foremost an emo band taking its cues from the likes of the Cave In and Hum, but unlike those bands' dozens of imperfect clones, they manage to ring some changes on the increasingly tired soft-LOUD-soft dynamic. Most interestingly, there's an undeniable jazz influence, in the manner of some of the Chicago post-rockers, to songs like the mostly instrumental "Diaryland" and a lengthy deconstructed cover of "My Funny Valentine." Elsewhere, the layers of keyboards and heavily processed guitars, not to mention the occasionally tricky time signature shifts that underpin songs like "Optimism Is for Stupid Idiots," bring the band deeper into math rock territory. The combination of Mike Smeen's synthesizers and Logan LaFlotte's admirably non-whiny vocals gives Paulson an unusual sound compared to most of their emo compatriots, and the songwriting on Variations is strong enough to suggest even better things to come.

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