Reviewed by Darcie Stevens, Fri., Aug. 8, 2008
It's a long way from Austin to Mumbai, but as DJ Avatar says, it's all world music. Avatar's Mas Cultura! EP blends Latin beats with the Middle East, Mission Impossible with Bollywood, and while his "Mumbai 2 Step" isn't nearly as effective as Bay Area DJ Cheb i Sabbah, his mash-up of ney, bells, and samples makes for a different dance floor. With butter-smooth vocalist Alex Chavez traveling through Mexico and the band on hiatus, it's fitting that local quintet Maneja Beto's self-titled EP leans away from the band's trademarked Latin indie rock toward its roots. "Campanera" lumbers down a rickety highway, meeting the cicada sway of classic cumbia "La Bruma." Even when genres merge, tradition reigns. Since last summer's hiccup, Moving Backwards, A. Rex has dwindled from overwrought trio to sensitive, one-man power-pop machine. Not sure what that says for Andrew Espinola, but third release Who Said I Was Running? muffles the pretension while attaining Velcro stickiness. Bookends "Too Smart for Me" and "Come on Pilot" have slots waiting on VH1. (Okay, maybe Fuse.) Where the hell did the Sour Notes come from? Jared Boulanger's new fourpiece rips out the gate with jaded pop gem The Meat of the Fruit. It's the best of all worlds: hints of Postal Service, boy-girl harmonies, bittersweet lyricism, fresh songwriting, beautiful home production, and a voice a million girls will fall in love with. Opener "Weak at Heart" starts fey and blows up angry, "Leslie Burke" breaks the clouds with summer simplicity and reverb, and "A Woman or a Grave" is all effortless smile. Who said pop is boring? Here's hoping debut LP Received in Bitterness, dropping later this year, is even half as juicy.