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Spymob: Sitting Around Keeping Score

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Album: Sitting Around Keeping Score
Label: Star Trak

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With the total number of bands that have ever truly sounded like Steely Dan teetering somewhere near zero, Spymob is on a distinctive path almost by default. The group doesn't delve into Steely Dan's lyrical meaning-maze, but the songs on Spymob's Sitting Around Keeping Score trade on the same kind of sonic perfection: thick layers of studio warmth, chords a note or two away from rote familiarity, melodies sick with excess and control. Spymob is also distinctive for being the first rock band signed to The Neptunes' Star Trak label. Its members played on The Neptunes' N*E*R*D album, and their '70s-radio vibe leans toward storied Neptunes rock influences otherwise relegated to Pharrell Williams' T-shirt collection. The Neptunes link doesn't offer much help in understanding Spymob, but it does add interesting context: In a time when chart-ready rock is either basic and raw or dark and murky, Sitting Around Keeping Score favors ornate pop worthy of Todd Rundgren and scores of studio professionals not afraid of pianos and vibraphones. The album-opening "2040" slides into a ruthlessly catchy chorus in which everything–piano bounce, rising guitar lines, upper-register vocals–is criss-crossed and multi-tracked to the hilt. "I Still Live At Home" turns down the sound-rush for a ballad soaked in strings and symphonic swoon, while the title track mimics Steely Dan to almost eerie effect and "Fly Fly Fishing Poles" works indie-rock guitar slink into an ecstatic chorus as hook-soaked as those seduced by "Mutt" Lange on Def Leppard's name-making singles. They sound like lifers who probably charted killer harmonies while reciting the Pledge Of Allegiance as kids, but Spymob's pop-rock virtuosos also burst with energy that's far from cloying. It helps save Sitting Around Keeping Score from some cringe-inducing lyrics, but would-be anthems so hummable rarely derive their pleasure from words anyway.