There's a right way and a wrong way to add violin to a rock band. For example, a 1998 University of Pennsylvania study discovered that the Dave Matthews Band exceeds the violin-to-rock ratio by 2,000 points. (OK, not really, but still.) No such test has yet been pushed upon Oakland's Heavenly States, but from the sound of their sophomore album, Black Comet, they'd surely pass. For one thing, violinist Genevieve Gagon mixes things up with piano and synthesizer on many of the songs, but the fact that Black Comet is one of the catchiest pop-rock albums of the year doesn't hurt, either. Imagine, if you will, Ted Leo and Starlight Mints jamming together with an angrier, hungrier Stephen Malkmus on vocals, and then add horns, flutes and, of course, that violin, and you're still only halfway there. The real key here is the near-psychotic Ted Nesseth, who, in spite of his cryptic, Michael Stipe-ean lyrics ("The foolish thoughts that we inspire/Somehow overthrow the places I've grown to admire"), makes these songs rip and roar so much that they'd be golden with only his voice and guitar. Fortunately, he's not solo: The raw, post-punk guitar romp of "Pretty Life" gets a boost from thumping tom drums and stuttering synthesizers, while shouts of "That's the big gun!" and guitar-violin punch combos turn "Vacant" into two of the poppiest minutes released this year. Hell, all 39 minutes get it right. People won't need a university study to figure that one out.
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