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Record review: Natural Causes' Self-Titled

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Natural Causes tried to make it clear they're a clean break from Last Year's Men, the other Carrboro band with the same members. The trio's pieces switched instruments and attitudes, trading Last Year's Men's soul- and country-inclined garage-pop for snotty punk outbursts. Even the Natural Causes origin story—an impromptu jam turned new band—distances itself from Last Year's Men's measured approach.

But Natural Causes' self-titled debut, which arrives less than a year after Last Year's Men's long-awaited Underwhelmed, reveals striking similarities with the old outfit. Even when quick and dirty, the chemistry among Ian Rose (who trades drums for keyboards and vocals), Geoff Schilling (guitar for drums) and Ben Carr (guitar and vocals in both acts) is uncanny. So too is the trio's ability to divine an earworm, even amid synth-punk tantrums.

"Hey Grant" is the song most obviously indebted to Natural Causes' garage-rock pedigree. Its dominant guitar riff follows a traditional R&B pattern, and the bratty refrain—"I wish you would cut your hair, please"—could fit a band of '60s punks as well as it does these scrappy millennials.

Rose finds a sinewy countermelody to upset Carr's retro riff during "Hey Grant," while they balance one another with volleyed verses during "Coma." As they yell the title together, anxiety morphs into a powerful hook. Many bands have ratcheted post-punk tension into dread and unease, but Natural Causes funnel the feeling into real pop catharsis.

Even at their meanest, as on the dizzying "Boo Hoo," Natural Causes turn snide impulses into tight compositions. Schilling's drumming is powerfully minimal. Carr's guitar scratches and wails. Rose's keyboard smears tones into seasickness. Still, the song sticks.

As different as Natural Causes may seem from Last Year's Men, at least on the surface, they take a new route to the same contagious success.

Label: Snot Releases

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