Homespun: The Mhurs

In Another Tongue

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In Another Tongue

The Mhurs is a maddening band. At times, the Belleville quartet's second record is overflowing with good ideas, solid hooks and bold vocals. At other places, sonic overindulgence, shapeless songs and atrophying rhythms nearly blot out the album's best moments. So In Another Tongue is that critical backhand known as a mixed bag, but the best moments suggest that the fellows in Mhurs know exactly what they're doing. That's what makes its low points so frustrating.

Jonathan Maguire sings like he's taking hits from a nitrous oxide tank between songs. His vocals are high and elastic, and he draws out notes like he's shooting off bottle rockets — for the atmosphere and the explosion and the spectacle of it all. It's rare to hear a vocalist evoke both Jeff Buckley and Freddie Mercury in the same song, but the mix usually works in the band's favor. Mhurs' guitarist Carter McKee carries the melodic weight with lithe and buzzy leads that often have a chameleonlike tone; the supercharged guitar lines on the title track ring out like Thin Lizzy riffs played on an electric bagpipe, and the jazzy, bell-like notes on "I'm Sorry Forever" give counterpoint to the thick crunch of the lead guitar. McKee is a worthy sparring partner for Maguire, whose vocals would easily overpower a lesser guitarist.

After a strong start (complete with an invigorating "1-2-3!" shout to kick things off), the disc settles into an amorphous, messy midsection that's too jammy, too slow and too scattered, often in the same song. The unfortunately named "Amy's Wine House Pt. 1" isn't just a head-slapping case of bad timing, given Winehouse's recent death — it's falsetto abuse of the highest degree and nearly unlistenable thanks to Maguire's cawing, sub-Axl caterwauls. (The band's Chili Peppers jones doesn't help either.) "Pt. 2" improves considerably on its predecessor, which isn't saying a whole lot. The simple, circular guitar part is pleasant as ever, but the lyrical mantra ("I need you so much") can't sustain an entire song. It sounds like a so-so chorus in search of some verses, chords changes — you know, those crucial pop-song components. Of course, those components are on display elsewhere; "Let the Right One In" comes across like a lullaby and proves that the band can summon a different, more quiet type of forceful energy. That lilting, soft-touch grace closes out the disc with the orchestral "Tiger Flowers," leaving listeners with a rich, dense torch song to chew on.

Want your CD to be considered for a review in this space? Send music c/o Riverfront Times, Attn: Homespun, 6358 Delmar Boulevard, Suite 200, St. Louis, Missouri, 63130. E-mail [email protected] for more information.

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