If in the past ALO had a kind of Doobie Brothers jamming around a campfire appeal, on their fourth album, Sounds Like This, they get a little freakier and add all sorts of sonic weirdness to their sound. They haven't totally ditched the core elements of their sound and there's still a ton of warmth in the way the band is recorded, in Zach Gill's burnished vocals and in the hippie-deep lyrical sentiments. There's also a left-field approach to the songwriting this time. A lot of the tracks deal with the pitfalls of making music and being in a band, with a healthy dose of rueful bitterness that makes you think that maybe they are second-guessing their career choice. Oddly though, the music is supremely uplifting. Mixing blues-riff guitar workouts with strutting disco jams and loose-limbed funk jammers with synthy Steve Miller-influenced pop, the band sounds more invested in making music that will inspire feet to get moving instead of creating a laid-back, laid-out mood. They also have a nice kitchen-sink approach to the arrangements, throwing in all kinds of goofy stuff (clavinet solos, dub reggae breakdowns, silly raps, cheesy synths) that keeps the mood light and fun throughout. It helps make the album's long running time (over an hour with most tracks over five minutes and one even pushing ten) seem a lot shorter than it is. It's easy to write off ALO (and any Brushfire artist) as merely a bunch of stoners who make albums for lazy, dazey times, but when they make an album with as many hooks as Sounds Like This, with as much sonic care and feeding, with such strong songs and performances, that's really not a fair assessment at all. Sure, the record works fine as a soundtrack for lying in the summer grass doing nothing, but it also works as a heady, brainy, silly, and fun slice of modern rock, too.
Tim Sendra, Rovi