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Pop Music Review

L.A.'s Paloalto Laces Textures With Drama

February 02, 2001|NATALIE NICHOLS

If you happened to stumble into the packed Viper Room on Wednesday, you might at first have thought Paloalto was another member of that popular new breed of brooding, brainy Brit bands, like Coldplay or Travis. But the quintet is actually a bunch of L.A.-based Anglophiles whose atmospheric music has similar textures and influences, from the Beatles to U2 to the Catherine Wheel.

Swathed in theatrical smoke and bathed in purple light, the group played an hour's worth of echoing, depressive selections drawn mostly from its self-titled, 2000 debut album, produced by Rick Rubin. The players created a palpable ambience from the first note of "Swim," but strong hooks were in short supply. Never mind--the music's dynamic waves and sweeping drama almost made up for it.

Lead singer, songwriter and guitarist James Grundler crooned with moody sincerity, his Thom Yorke-ish tenor proving more flexible than it initially seemed. His vocals alternately floated above and meshed with the subtly shaded tapestries woven by lead guitarist Jason Johnson, keyboardist Andy Blunda, bassist Alex Parnell and drummer Florian Reinert.

They varied the mood, dropping from harder-rocking urgency to an almost folky yearning, and occasionally veering toward post-punk noisiness, as on the new tune "Here Comes Trouble." If the songs blurred together in this sonic cocoon, more so than on the recording, Paloalto's cerebral charm still came through.

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