After two albums on the ambitious yet short lived Jesus Christ label, Raleigh's Ashley Stove rebounded to Merge Records, comfortably snug in the midst of indieland. Surrounded by like-minded souls, their Merge debut, New Scars, showed the rock vets (Erectus Monotone, Portastatic) confounding the alt-rock paradigm by flirting with power pop chord progressions and boy-girl harmonies. With the departure of founding member Matt Brown, the Stove's Ben Barwick, Jennifer Barwick (nee Walker) and Billy Alphin enlisted Pipe/Small songwriter and guitarist Mike Kenlan to add juice. (He's since left the band, with Jim Brantley taking his position.) The resulting album, All Summer Long, had me running to the CD player to see if I'd popped in the wrong disc. It's a breezy, upbeat album that goes by in a warm hazy blur of '80s new wave optimism: angst free, valiantly anti-emo, a nod to a time when The Cars wrote hit songs, The Knack asserted that good girls didn't and summer was a time for suckin' on frozen rocket pops and taking your hound dog for a ride with the windows down.
With Brian Paulson in the engineer's chair, the Stove deliver their most focused album to date. There's nary a heavy riff or ominous chord progression to be found on this collection of optimistic ditties, but check out The Police-inspired chorus to the opening track, "Amen Grasshopper." While All Summer Long is more Figgs than Plimsouls, there's just enough farfisa and strummy guitar parts to please modern pop heads who like the Edinburgh sound (Belle and Sebastian et al.). The only caveat: Like the summer, this 10-song album is over before you know it.--angie carlson