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Spotlight on:
41 Gorgeous Blocks

41 Gorgeous Blocks, Well...
41 Gorgeous Blocks, Well I Sorta Know How You Feel

41 Gorgeous Blocks' Matt Riggle describes the band's music as "rock and roll, period," but for my purposes, this isn't very helpful, so I'll call them punk-pop (with an emphasis on the pop) and say that this Grand Prairie, TX, band sounds like a combination of Green Day and the Violent Femmes.

Their CD single Well... is good promotion for their upcoming album Well I Sorta Know How You Feel. It contains three songs, two from the album ("What Can I Do Now?" and "Last Night") and one of their live crowd pleasers ("Stare at the Sun") from Riggle's days in another band with his late brother, Bobby (Ed Banky's Car--yet another Catcher in the Rye reference, for those of you keeping score at home). Well... also contains an enhanced portion featuring videos of 41 Gorgeous Blocks in the studio and lyrics to the songs as well as a link to their informative website (where songs from the new album are available for download). Not bad for a measly $3.00.

Especially when you consider that two of the songs are real gems. "Last Night" (download) is a particular favorite as Riggle (the frontman and main songsmith) combines sadness with comedy in a way that rings true. The melodic bass work of Tanner Leaser is another highlight of "Last Night" as well as "What Can I Do Now?" I also like the clever-but-understated drumming of Matt Morris.

What really stands out about these songs is the contrast between lyrics that are relatively downbeat with the music that is distinctly the opposite. It's very much a similar experience--in that way--to listening to the Barenaked Ladies. "What can I do now," Riggle asks, "when all I'm certain of is doubt?" But then remembers that "there's always tomorrow."

Unfortunately, the less said about "Stare at the Sun," the better. It is the one song here that just doesn't work for me. I inevitably skip it while I can hear the others multiple times without tiring of them. Luckily, this is not a cut from Well I Sorta Know How You Feel, twelve concise songs of emotional pop. "Closer" (download) opens the album and follows Riggle's struggle with making it in the music business and how he's "no closer than I was then." This is probably the longest song, three-plus minutes, on this relatively short album, twelve songs coming in at just over thirty minutes--but that's always been the way with punk, as I understand it.

The band does know their best work, because they put it on Well.... "Last Night" sounds very similar to its promotional counterpart but, unfortunately, the new mix of "What Can I Do Now?" seems to focus more on Riggle's voice to the neglect of the rest of the band. In fact, they almost sound as if they're not in the same room with him. It was the easy balance and jangly guitar that I liked most about the song, and that is missing--or at least faded--in the version on Well I Sorta Know How You Feel. This is especially strange as guitarist Deedle LaCour is a coproducer and you would think would be hesitant to hide some of his best work.

Even in light of these comparisons, this album is solid work from 41 Gorgeous Blocks. Nevertheless, songs like the depressively nostalgic "Campfire Creek," the unassumingly simple "I Know When I'm Not Wanted So I'll Go" (download), and the surprisingly laid-back instrumental "Well I Sorta Know How You Feel" stand tall among their brothers. The only song that really didn't work for me was "Scenic Route." Even the anachronistic (for an album released in February) "Christmas (Without You)" (download) comes across not only as an appropriate selection in how well it fits with the rest, but also as a highlight. I wouldn't have thought of using it to end the album, but it's perfect. What do I know?

But the best aspect of this already great recording is just how much fun it seems like they're having in the studio, most noticeably exhibited by the occasional cries Riggle lets out during the songs and the snappy "one, two, three, four" counts that pepper the latter half of the album. They give the whole thing a "live" vibe that is infectious. This is a quartet that is just happy to be making music together and, well, I am, too.

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