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by Raymond Cummings

July 24, 2013

Modern Euphoric Prog Pop

by Raymond Cummings  |  July 24, 2013

There are some bands -- a very special, very unique class of bands -- that are on another level, where rock 'n' roll verges on the ecstatic and the essentially devotional without invoking outright religiosity. Call it euphoric prog pop: the perfect, peppy soundtrack for youth group meetings, middle-school dances or warming up a Jonas Brothers audience. "Light & Day," the overexposed smiley-face hit single from Dallas' The Polyphonic Spree, may be thought of as a baseline for this subgenre. Then there's Austin, Tex., duo Zorch, who monster-mash together light-show prog, gospel poly-harmonies, Tortoise-inspired xylophone runs and canny jump-cuts that bring to mind early Battles ("Cosmic Gloss"); and Belfast's And So I Watch You from Afar, who ramble out merrily electrified freak-folk shouts ("Like a Mouse").

Several bands in this class hail from Baltimore, Md. The late, great Ponytail had a knack for evoking the sensation of somehow exploding beyond one's own earthly form; Ice Cream Spiritual, their second and best album, boasts the wiggly, wriggly "Late for School." Fang Island kick up sweet, winding guitar-God glory ("Davey Crockett"), while former WZT Hearts miscreant Jason Urick sets strobing synthesizers and electronics in pursuit of enlightenment of a decidedly more New Age sort.

Meanwhile, N.Y.C.'s The Fiery Furnaces' band-geek glee gets positively Miss Teen Wordpower ("Borneo"), and Why?'s almost-anthem "Sanddollars" turns 20-something growing-up angst into a whale-sized thrill. Early New Pornographers twisted pogo-pop's sugar rush with an on-repeat-forever fervor ("The Electric Version"), and Massachusetts bad-news synth-poppers DOM can make down-in-the-mouth sentiments feel disgustingly uplifting ("Burn Bridges"). Immaculately tailored and deployed jams like these are part of what makes this life worth living.

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