Chicago up-and-comers The 1900s dangle two lures for the listener: gentle, male-female harmonies, and a sweetly bouncing pop groove. With that irresistible combination, there's a lot to deliver—and Return of the Century mostly succeeds, evoking a bittersweet and wistful quilt of emotions.
With a sound that falls somewhere between Belle and Sebastian and The Sundays, The 1900s have plenty of charms, and they waste no time in cranking them high. Lead track "Amulet" begins with a softly strummed acoustic guitar and ringing piano before opening wide with hand claps, beautiful vocal harmonies, jangly guitars and a swaying violin.
"Lay a Ghost" could be a breakout hit, with a springy beat and rolling bassline. Throughout the album, the sweet pop sound masks a darker lyrical undercurrent. In this case, it's a callous lover unconcerned at the damage she's causing by using someone else: "You said you would go / I said be my guest."
"Lions Fur" is another standout, built on an insistent guitar riff and a heart-on-the-sleeve chorus: "If we have to fight, we'll take them all on together / And we won't get tired, we can fight them forever."
The record feels a bit slight at 36 minutes and does lose some steam at the end, veering unflatteringly toward Fleetwood Mac territory. But at its best, Return of the Century is memorably sweet pop rock that is bold enough to deal in gloomy themes, capturing the sense of being weighed down by your own selfish mistakes.