As distant second in the Pavement hierarchy, Scott "Spiral Stairs" Kannberg had a steeper hill to climb than Stephen Malkmus after the band's 2000 breakup: Kannberg's subsequent projects wouldn't have nearly as much built-in audience carryover as those of Pavement's chief singer and songwriter. On the flipside, Kannberg could start anew with the comfort of relative anonymity, without being held to the lofty task of besting or even equaling Pavement's finest work. With Preston School Of Industry, Kannberg has settled into a solid new phase that neither gazes longingly back at the glory days nor ignores them entirely. Shades of the monkey-wrenching weirdness he threw into Pavement pop up on occasion, but much of the new Monsoon treads a pleasantly strummy middle ground that'll neither shake up the rock world nor put it to sleep. Fans of PSOI's debut, All This Sounds Gas, won't be shocked by Monsoon's easygoing Cali-rock; it's a sunny-side sequel with a brighter outlook and looser limbs, but a similar MO. Less droll and detached than ever, Kannberg comes across as sincerely committed—as opposed to standoffishly ironic—on the album's best moments. With its harmonica and piano tinkling, "Walk Of A Gurl" could be a lost Tom Petty demo, while "The Furnace Sun" lopes along with a looseness Kannberg hasn't summoned before, and "Caught In The Rain" should snare fans of The Go-Betweens. The mood only snaps when PSOI deliberately turns up the pressure: "Her Estuary Twang," with its sour-shout backing vocals, does a disservice to what could have been a charming song, and "Get Your Crayons Out!" (which features most of Wilco on various instruments, including Jeff Tweedy on "skronk guitar") feels like it's been skewed for skewedness' sake. It's a shame that the sidesteps don't work, because Monsoon could use a dose of the right kind of quirkiness to make it jump out. As it is, it still dispenses enough bright, breezy enjoyment to help illuminate the long shadow of Kannberg's old band.
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