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Pop Music | RECORD RACK

No penalty for trying a few new things

January 22, 2006|Steve Hochman

Yellowcard

"Lights and Sounds" (Capitol)

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THE lush piano-and-strings swell that starts this album sounds like a romantic film score, and as such gives the promise of something distinctive, at least in the context of an emo-rock band. So it's disappointing that the next sounds are relatively conventional, with the title song of the Ventura-based group's second major-label album (due Tuesday) sticking close to formula with churning, polished guitars and Ryan Key's standard-issue adenoidal vocals. As the album moves on, though, there's at least some fulfillment for the initial impression: This is distinctive.

It helps that Yellowcard starts out different in the emo world -- the central role of Sean Mackin's violin guarantees that. But even so, you wouldn't expect a guest appearance by Natalie Maines of the Dixie Chicks, as happens late in the album on the soaring "How I Go," her slight twang (and female presence) providing extra color for the band's palette. Even before that, the band shows willingness to break form.

Lyrics, while sticking largely to emo's solipsistic, youth-angst range, are marked by economy and creative imagery. "Martin Sheen or JFK" is not about politics and never even mentions the faux and real presidents. Rather, it's an effective portrait of an emotional breakdown. And "Two Weeks From Twenty" takes a twist toward Fountains of Wayne-type suburban pop-rock, further tweaked with some jazzy guitar and trumpet. Give 'em points for simply trying.

*

Albums are rated on a scale of one star (poor), two stars (fair), three stars (good) and four stars (excellent). The albums are already released unless otherwise noted.

Steve Hochman

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