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Gauntlet Hair: Stills (DEAD OCEAN)

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Stills, the sophomore album by Denver noise poppers Gauntlet Hair, earns a solid C. It's perfectly average, with some good ideas but nothing that distinguishes it.

Stills works best when it makes references to things within the band's wheelhouse: late-1980s post-punk (that ugly-pretty bass squawk on "Simple," the PiL-esque "Waste Your Art"), new wave ("Bad Apple," which plays like a tribute to Depeche Mode) or Wax Trax!-era industrial (the downright Thrill Kill Kult-ish "Spew"). Lyrically, the album is a bit ridiculous, but perhaps that's a strange kind of homage to the previously listed bands they're referencing, none of which had the best way with words. A track like "G.I.D." showcases both the album's sonic virtues (the song boasts a weirdly staccato bridge that's quite nice) and lyrical shortcomings ("Stole my heart right out of my chest/ With your lifted shirt" delivered in an ironically angelic whisper is particularly stupid).

Some songs feel overdetermined by the zeitgeist, less the product of interesting artists and more a response to the indie marketplace. "Falling Out," for example, is really just a noisier, gothier take on Vampire Weekend; "Human Nature" sounds too much like boys with eyeliner pretending to be tUnE-yArDs.

Stills is a serviceable record, with some fun moments. But No Age, Crocodiles, Braids, Washed Out and Disappears all have albums coming out this summer, and it feels safe to predict that any or all of them will nail the balance between noise and pop that Stills mostly fumbles.

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