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Hope of the States lost one of their best friends during the recording of The Lost Riots. They could have given it all up to mourn the loss of founding guitarist James Lawrence, but their dedication to one another and to their music could not be disregarded. The majestic soundscape that is The Lost Riots honors the band's personal bond and cherishes the memory of their late friend, but that's merely a stepping stone. Sam Herlihy's bittersweet vocal delivery during the piano-driven ballads "Don't Go to Pieces" and "Sadness on My Back" matches the heartache previously displayed by Starsailor's James Walsh. He's even a touch like Richard Ashcroft, a working-class poet in progress much like Ashcroft was during his latter years with the Verve. With their tragic loss aside, there's a lilting sense of comfort surrounding the 13-song set. Hope of the States compose a youthful, rebellious spark found in those who raise a fist against corporate establishment. The dynamic of love and loss will never rest, and it bursts with a millions fibers and a few tears as Hope of the States channel their frustration for the man versus man equation. Herlihy's heavy-hearted voice and Mike Siddell's atmospheric violin arrangements during "Enemies/Friends" immediately set the anthemic tone of The Lost Riots. Words as simple as "Come on people/keep your friends close/your enemies won't matter/in the end" makes it all seem so easy. Hope of the States encourage those people to take a stand against anything that challenges faith. It's just their sharp, yet sensitive approach that makes The Lost Riots emerge honest and true. Even the more ambitious numbers like "The Red the White the Black the Blue," a downpour of acoustic guitars, pianos, and percussion, and the old-timey jangle "George Washington" don't come off as pretentious or overly earnest. It's likely that Hope of the States are firm in questioning a bullying United States, but the songs are open-ended enough so that they could be about anything to anyone. Genuine sincerity is the key to their success, and The Lost Riots breaks apart the darkness of personal tragedy for a joyful daybreak. Herlihy softly croons "I've seen from broken people smile" at the start of "Black Dollar Bills." If that's not enough to impress you, the soaring exclamation of "Nehemiah" is promising. The double-cross of emotions holds The Lost Riots together, thus making Hope of the States' first introduction an impressionable one.
Five friends who grew up together in Dublin, called the Thrills, have produced a remarkably neat debut album. At the heart of their sound is a professed love for the tunes of the American West Coast of the '60s and '70s. Set to a backdrop of Al Green, Carole King, and the Band, they quickly pieced together tracks for their debut album, So Much for the City, during a four-month holiday on a beach in San Diego. But the Thrills aren't afraid to display more modern influences: a small audience at an Abbey Road gig was handed a one-sided 7" single with a cover of the Smiths' classic "Last Night I Dreamt That Somebody Loved Me." Their band name is also partly inspired by Michael Jackson's LP Thriller, and they covered "Billie Jean" on the English television show RE:COVERED. The three singles stand out on first listen as being radio-friendly hits: "Big Sur" opens with a zap of electronic keyboards, is driven by a melancholic banjo riff, and reinterprets the lyrics from the Monkees' theme: "Hey, hey you're the Monkees/People said you monkeyed around, but nobody's listening now." "Santa Cruz (You're Not That Far)" has an inventive time-shifting melody and gorgeous backing vocals, but "One Horse Town," while being a satisfying slice of surf pop, is too repetitive and bland.

There are moments when the Thrills produce some lavish, well-crafted pop songs: "Your Love Is Like Las Vegas" is a glorious uptempo anthem that features an inspired choppy guitar solo. Unfortunately, the slower songs on the album break up the uplifting momentum of the LP: "Hollywood Kids" and "'Til the Tide Creeps In" just drag along and aren't as successful as the simpler, jauntier numbers like the Dukes of Hazzard-style country-pop of "Say It Ain't So." With its impeccable vocal harmonies, catchy hooks, breathy laid-back vocals, and upbeat simple tunes, this is perfect bubblegum music with a nostalgic sound that adopts the sun-seeking vibe and sound of the Golden State, but still manages to remain contemporary. As for the rest, the one-dimensional repetitive lyrics ("You said, 'Let's go to San Diego/Hey that's where all the kids go'" on "Deckchairs and Cigarettes") do begin to irritate after a while, particularly when vocalist Conor Deasy constantly name-checks American cities. So it comes as no surprise that the band should record its debut LP in Los Angeles. Tony Hoffer, the producer behind Air, Beck, and the Smashing Pumpkins, offers a competent helping hand but the album would have benefited from a dirtier, bluesier sound; the production is far too polished, giving the LP a somewhat sterile feel. Still, So Much for the City is at times a beautifully rendered album with surprisingly solid songwriting; it's an unashamedly nostalgic musical postcard from the American West Coast. As a first LP, it shows signs of real promise, but it remains to be seen what direction the Thrills will follow next. They simply can't keep on borrowing from the Americana musical gold mine for much longer, because they couldn't sustain listener interest across the space of a second album.
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