Fastball

Step Into Light

Texas Platters

From the front-room stage at Hole in the Wall to a million-selling hit and the Nineties summer revival circuit, the Austin trio once known as Magneto U.S.A. has never exhausted their subtly potent charms. They remain pop songsmiths in the classic sense: maintaining fidelity to the hook, translating fleeting sentiments into wide-lens plain language, not letting big ideas get in the way of a good song. This Tin Pan Alley-meets-the Beatles aesthetic keeps Fastball from getting sandbagged by the decades. They don't sound like a pre-millennial band now because they didn't sound like one back then. For Fastball's first album in eight years, guitarist/vocalist Miles Zuniga, bassist/vocalist Tony Scalzo, and drummer Joey Shuffield enlisted heyday peer Chris "Frenchie" Smith of Sixteen Deluxe to co-produce. Between the latter's enthusiasm for discreet sonic adventure and a tightly performed set of extraneity-free songs, Step Into Light never gathers moss. Driving Zuniga opener "We're on Our Way" breaks out like the nervously urgent spawn of the Cars' "Good Times Roll" before Scalzo's "Best Friend" luxuriates in pitch-bent sunshine pop escapism. Lennon-esque acoustic gem "Behind the Sun" strategically downshifts the mood, setting the stage for Scalzo's sprightly everyman plea, "I Will Never Let You Down" (check out the video to see how such a plea might go over on a speed date). "Just Another Dream" employs hazy imagery and stark dynamics to construct an epic three-minute burst of melancholic confabulation. Then "Hung Up" swings by the airport, borrowing escalators and TSA dogs to give garden-variety obsession some real-world color before Sixties-styled rom-com film theme "Frenchy and the Punk" brings us in for landing. Thirty solid minutes with no commercial interruptions.

***.5

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