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The Honored Guests

Tastes Change

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(Breakfast Mascot Music)

There are three ways to interpret Tastes Change, the title of the second LP from Chapel Hill trio-turned-quartet The Honored Guests--as evolution, as holism and as metaphor. All three options provide an accurate view of the band's sophomore effort, a mature album borne of eclectic rock chops and increased textures.

The Honored Guests' 2004 debut, IAWOKEINACITYASLEEP, opened with an immediate drum build, a frantic open-chord acoustic guitar strum and a series of inviting pop "Oohs." It fed into the first verse of the opening track and first single, "Postmarked." Russ Baggett's deadpan vocals--sounding like an indie rocker inspired by Tom Petty and Eddie Vedder--pushed the band through spackled, sparkling pop about lovers and exits.

By contrast, Tastes Change eases into it on opener "The Race is Long," a 28-second build of organ and synthesizer fading into guitar feedback, slowly redirecting itself into one simple, repeating chord. And this isn't a song as much as it is a prelude, a one-verse statement of grand intention: "Take your time and don't be like that/ Things that get away and come back to us/ Are better for the wait/ 'Cause we run so long a race, longer than you think." If Baggett was wearing flannel in the vocal booth last time, he sounds like he's dressed to impress this time, suited up in sartorial British threads and singing for the stars. His vocal delivery is affected and effective, an invitation delivered in endearing falsetto. Yes, tastes do change, and bands do evolve. The Honored Guests have.

But this is only the first track. Elsewhere, The Guests, with the keyboard work of new member Patrick O' Neill, span the spectrum. Tastes not only change over time, but they co-exist. "Summer Snow" casts unexpected shrapnel into a perfect pop song much like Wilco, "Grown Up Clothes" offers The Velvet Underground's strung-out reverb, and "Baby, We're So Lost" offers the didactic, amorous (dis-)comfort of Coldplay, complete with a feigned British accent. Arrangements come alternately simple and convoluted, as stripped down as an acoustic guitar and a glockenspiel or as textured as several keyboards, carefully calculated rhythm and multiple guitar tracks. The Honored Guests succeed in offering a cohesive, holistic rock cross section as one LP.

Given that Tastes Change fits the new Guests' sound as a descriptor, the shifted sonics and the album's wide musical reach serve as a metaphor for two lovers trying to keep their relationship in stasis by recognizing and reconciling their differences. Baggett seems looking for promise--"Just give me something good to look forward to" he sings on "Summer Snow"--from someone, and the players behind him are helping, holding the flashlight and waiting for the good word.

True: People change. That plasticity often manifests itself via altered interests. Couples can let that tension pull them apart or keep them together: It's that indecision tugging at Tastes Change--causing it to roll into psychedelic reverie one moment and glittery good pop the next--that makes it worthwhile. A solid second.

The Honored Guests throw a CD release party at Local 506 on Saturday, April 29 at 10 p.m. Tickets are $6. Schooner and Joe Romeo & The Orange County Volunteers open.

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