Raleigh band The Coke Dares, once the rhythm section of the late Jason Molina's Magnolia Electric Co., trades in zippy bursts of punky power-pop with the arty verve of Wire, the sinewy energy of The Minutemen, and the pith of Guided by Voices. So it's no surprise that new album Fake Lake recalls those influences' greatest works.
Like Pink Flag, Double Nickels on the Dime, or Bee Thousand, The Coke Dares' third full-length is a towering punk suite that flits between an array of styles. Not one song among Fake Lake's thirty-five, which are spread over just forty-four minutes, comes within spitting distance of three minutes. Only four top two minutes, and the longest of those, the freak-folk experiment "Water Purse," just barely does.
But brevity is a boon to The Coke Dares' sonic breadth. Some songs, such as the tantrum-like "Drivin' on a Sunday" and the strutting "I'm Just Lookin' for My Manager," are intense explosions of attitude and energy. Others are tender ballads that mask sophomoric ribaldry. "Please Say Fuck" is a jangle-pop ode to the F-word that could double as a metaphor for communication breakdowns. "Came to Shit" masks regret in toilet humor; its chorus consists of the classic bathroom-stall rhyme. There are weird pop experiments like the title track and nuggets of power-pop gold fit for a Cheap Trick record, including "Droppin' Out" and "You Say a Lot."
But despite its variegated voices (literally, as each member of the trio writes and sings), Fake Lake's striking moments cohere into a remarkably cogent whole. Just around the record's three-quarter mark, for example, the funk-punk of "Call Me High School" segues perfectly into the Big Star-like "Bed of Ashes," which flows directly into the searing "Pontiac Blues."
Given its length and heft, it might seem reasonable to suggest that The Coke Dares tried to fit too many ideas into Fake Lake. But when a record is so densely packed with smart arrangements and zany humor, performed at breakneck speed, excess doesn't seem that bad a sin.