All At Once [Doghouse]

by: Paulson

Paulson's first album, Variations, was an occasionally off-putting mix of post-rock noodling and emo neediness, neither "difficult" enough to be a challenging listen nor attractive enough to entice listeners past its more abstruse moments. Dropped from Initial Records after that effort, the band underwent a musical reorganization, signed with a smaller label, and delivered a far superior second effort. All At Once won't sound particularly new or different to anyone even passingly acquainted with the whole post-Pinkerton school of pop emo, but unlike on their debut, Paulson here sounds like a band committed to their music and wanting to make a more direct, focused album than before. Shorter and less meandering than before, the songs are built as much on Mike Smeen's droning synth lines as they are Jesse Burton's newly restrained guitar lines, and singer Logan Laflotte is working in a more relaxed, less angsty register. The results are much more pleasing to the ear, but there's still a heard-it-all-before element to even the best songs here. In much the same way that the album cover art is a blatant but not very well-done theft of Japanese cult visual artist Takashi Murakami's signature playful/creepy silk-screens of DNA-mutated cartoon characters, the songs are clever but unremarkable nods to other, better artists. ~ Stewart Mason

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