The Format 

Dog Problems (The Vanity Label)

The Format (a.k.a. Nate Ruess and Sam Means) is as jaded about the music industry as they come. After releasing 2003's Interventions and Lullabies and scoring a minor hit with the snappy, über-catchy "The First Single," the duo's label was folded into Atlantic Records — which ultimately dropped the band over "creative differences." With Dog Problems, released on their own Vanity Label imprint, Means and Ruess respond via the alt-country stomper, "The Compromise": "Find a partner and grab a pen/Don't you dare ask questions, just sign on the dotted line." Problems isn't all music-biz nose-thumbing, however; the album was also fueled by an intense breakup of the romantic sort. But instead of treading clichéd ground, Ruess employs metaphors far more convincing than his peers' overused images of plunging knives and spilling blood, as the lyrics to "Matches," "Oceans" and acoustic standout "Snails" demonstrate. The music jumps time signatures and musical styles with equal ingenuity, whether it's dance-rock ("Time Bomb"), '60s surf-rock ("She Doesn't Get It") or the title track's Broadway-showtune orchestral grandeur. Then there's closer "If Work Permits," an optimistic rager filled with rapid-fire guitars and furious harmonization. "Hey, I'm doing all right!" Ruess and Means shriek. "I'm doing just fine!" Females? Financial backing? If Problems is any indication, freedom suits the Format better than those two things combined.

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