After a relatively quiet year, indie-rock everymen the Hibernauts have returned to build on the goodwill generated by their 2007 debut EP, the zippy and melodic Period Fable. Formerly a quartet, the 2009 Hibernauts are emboldened by the addition of former Victoria bassist Chad Rogers, who is a wild card in every sense of the term. The talented multi-instrumentalist jumps in on guitar and keyboard and frees up his bandmates to stretch out (and his onstage antics are, shall we say, unreserved). The core of the Hibernauts remains unchanged, however — guitarists Jack Stevens and Tom McArthur share the microphone, and on Velvet Suit both singers switch between drawn-out, pensive tracks and more jangly, angular (jangular?) power-pop.
Suit opens with the slow-grower "Make Me a Son," which unfolds with plaintive piano chords, some George Harrison-inspired slide guitar and a string section. Where the Hibernauts of old couldn't wait to get to the hook or unload a big fat chorus, the song displays twin traits of patience and destruction: After a steady build to the coda, everything — even those pretty violins — gets loaded into the shredder. However, the next track, "Intermurals (sic)," takes the band right back to where it started: It's a frenetic, supercharged indie-rock tune with a fixation on the whims and vagaries of college coeds. The style isn't a bad place to call home; the song's stop-start dynamics and an especially pliant bass line make it comfortably catchy. However, it sets the stage for an album which vacillates between new elements (slower tempos, an extended arsenal of sounds) and old ones (Strokes-y rhythms, from-the-hilt vocals).
On the more adventurous side, "Villains" is driven by a minimal, almost industrial drum-machine loop while churchy organ chords hold down the low end. The song provides a breather from the rush of guitars and live drums but never coalesces. More successful is the buzzy, martial "Walking Spanish" (not a Tom Waits cover), where the band throws stacked vocals, fuzz bass, banjo and bluesy organ into the blender and comes out with a winning closing track. The album's bookends are certainly its highlights, but what comes in the middle is often too up-and-down to ever really cohere into a capital-A Album. Although peppered with great music, it's a safe bet that Velvet Suit will, in hindsight, be the band's transitional album — a disc that ultimately finds the Hibernauts caught between past and present.
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