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Our critics' picks in new releases



A welcome aperitif. Patty Hurst Shifter's first EP, The Short Record, is exactly what the name implies: a four-track sampling of the goods to come on the band's forthcoming sophomore album, Too Crowded on the Losing End. The band is tight and energized on this trial run, showing surprising finesse for a lineup that's switched bass players twice since 2001's debut Beestinger Lullabies.

There are new tricks for the old rock here: J. Chris Smith's world-wide-open songs are a fitting template for the sound, a guitar-heavy drive stapled into place by Skillet Gilmore and Jesse Huebner's rhythm section, capable of being distinct rock 'n' roll vintage with a dollop of the playful jangle the South made notable decades ago, too.

"When You Lie" is a perfect opener, setting the tone for it all. Smith admits to experience and endless expectations of that at-least-for-now love that may last forever, but probably won't last through tomorrow. "Feed me hope and lay me down," he sings from both the first- and third-person. The band offers a new spin on the classic breakdown, large-tom bridge, dropping down into perfectly executed harmonies and launching straight out into an exit chorus.

Those harmonies show up all over PHS's new material, especially in the second song, "Never Know." These aren't the harmonies that scream increased production for radio play. The band, at last and at least, just seems to be realizing that it's not un-rock to brighten the corners, to bold the accents, and the results lead to the most instantly memorable PHS songs so far.

As a songwriter, though, Smith still realizes his goal isn't to be instantly memorable: His songs are rife with imagery and condensed anecdotes pocked with "dents and shells," and he offers up life as primo inspiration. "Which one's your confidant and which one's your coffin? Which one will bleed you and leave you just like the last?" he offers on "Wondertown," one of the two non-LP tracks found here and the best song on the EP. Guess we'll find out soon.

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