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Pleasure Forever 

Alter (Sub Pop)

Excess and overindulgence plagued Pleasure Forever's self-titled début. A hedonistic embrace, the album was chock-full of wild bacchanalian and occult themes, swaggering drumming, cabaret piano lines and propulsive guitars. Stylistically, it ran the gamut from '60s sex, drugs and rock & roll (Steppenwolf, the Doors), to '70s glam (Bowie), to mid-'90s post-punk (The VSS, which included all three Pleasure Forever members), all colliding to form a unique style. When this style succeeded, it was original and overwhelming, making the Doors look like novice drug users and amateur débauchés. But when it failed, it was plodding and absurd, much like the very worst of Nick Cave.

But such is the nature of pleasure: Too much of anything, no matter how enjoyable, dulls one's perceptions, making what was once vibrant and exciting seem commonplace and tired or, even worse, addictive and hollow. Fortunately, the members of Pleasure Forever seem to have learned to moderate their excesses with their sophomore effort, Alter. Temperance serves the trio well: It's a virtue found in abundance on the albums of Pleasure Forever's previous incarnation, Slaves. Slaves used deep, sometimes dublike bass to stabilize their drunken keyboards and guitars, and as a result, their records had remarkably weighty and monolithic rhythms. With Alter, Pleasure Forever remembers the power of that tempering bass, a control that's best exemplified on the song "Czarina." Drummer David Clifford opens it up with a swingy backbeat, establishing a stompy groove over which a swanky piano line tumbles. Singer/keyboardist Andrew Rothbard's distorted whisper comes in simultaneously with Josh Hughes's almost-imperceptible guitar drone. Slowly, Rothbard grows louder, muttering something about being glory-bound. With the sultry mood established, the band members increase the tempo, adding a driving bass (which Rothbard plays on the albums) only to slow it all back down after a few measures. The song continues to oscillate back and forth, building a tension that bursts into a cathartic ending: hi-hat and snare violently snapping, wah-pedal shredding, bass rumbling and piano ringing.

Like Odysseus tied to the mast of his ship, Pleasure Forever has discovered how to listen to (and mimic) the sirens' song in safety, enjoying all of its heady pleasures without being lured away to certain doom.

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