Yes, nü-garage is the new grunge, and yes, Australia's Vines began life as a Nirvana cover band. But if the teenagers that make up the quartet continue down the eclectic and electric path Highly Evolved lays down, there's no doubt that they'll outlive the hype. (They were called the second coming of Jesus in rock by the British press -- which will probably crucify them two albums from now.)
The band's debut, produced by Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliott Smith), is peppered with the same type of Kinks-on-speed riffs and rubber-limbed, Keith Moon-style drumming that seem so now with the Hives, Mooney Suzuki, the Hellacopters, et al., but there's enough stylistic variation across the record's 12 tracks to show glimpses of myriad possible directions. And all the stylistic hats fit fine, thank you. From the sleepy stoner ballad "Mary Jane" to the very-Television "Ain't No Room" and the 6:30 barn-burning closer "1969" -- with a nod to both Led Zeppelin and the Stooges in the metallic guitar coda -- Highly Evolved delivers slices of pure pop, with bravado and swagger given nearly equal time with vulnerability.
The Vines are a band with so many ideas and sounds that they don't always have the patience to write a middle eight before moving on to the next song -- as the opening, 93-second title song makes clear. But they're not all adrenaline and youthful urgency: Dig the analog synths wavering under and above the guitars on the ballad "Homesick." The piano, acoustic guitar, and "yeah, yeah" backing vocals belie a sense of classic power-pop craft, carried through all the way to the long, hazy fade of floating arpeggio guitars.
But the dreamy spell is broken -- shattered, really -- by "Get Free," which recalls the album's opener while simultaneously demolishing it. "Get Free" is simply the most exciting song of the year, with its repeated verses, pounded tambourine, and chug-chug guitars, and Craig Nicholls' howled self-loathing ("She never loved me/Why should anyone?"). It's two minutes and six seconds of teen spirit that reaffirm the power of rock to reinvent itself in the hands of youth.
Highly Evolved is such a delight that even the missteps -- such as the Beatlesque "Factory," unfortunately more "Ob-La-Di, Ob-La-Da" than Revolver/Rubber Soul -- are so sincere that they only demonstrate that there's room for this to be an even better band. A staggering thought.
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