Can the music be called Brit pop if the musicians in question take more influences from the Mississippi Delta than from their Liverpool-area origins? Lacking a better term, Gomez describes its music as "psychedelic blues." And while there's no easy way to explain the trippy country-blues-electronica-folk-rock genre melt that defines the quintet's catalogue, it is easy to praise the band for always keeping you guessing and rarely, if ever, letting you down.

Gomez is still a baby band, having made its debut only four years ago, and the story behind its nearly instantaneous rise is remarkable. Five chums who'd known each other since they were practically still in diapers recorded a demo in their basement, then handed it out to friends, one of whom (unbeknownst to them) was a musician turned record-store clerk with serious industry connections. Three weeks after passing on that tape, they had offers from labels in Britain and the United States. The demo became Bring It On, which garnered them the coveted Mercury Prize, as well as official kudos from NME and Q magazine, just to name a few. John Lee Hooker himself claimed he "done listened to the record over and over and [couldn't] find no defect." Liquid Skin followed in 1999, and a collection of outtakes and rough cuts (Abandoned Shopping Trolley Hotline) came in late 2000. And then Gomez disappeared. Until now.

The group's third official full-length is everything it should be: mysterious, exciting, hinting at new directions and plain old fun. It opens promisingly with the bottom-heavy, Morphine-esque "Shot Shot," an exuberant, confident clang-banger of a song with enough momentum to push the whole record from behind. Not that it needs it: All of the links in this thirteen-song chain are equally strong, due in no small part to Gomez's commitment to extensive dabbling. (Drummer Olly Peacock once told this reporter that the boys in the band would "hit or use anything or sing down anything.")

The result is a provocative mishmash of looped, rootsy harmonica lines that morph into pseudo-electronica ("Rex Kramer"), watery vocal effects and lovely harmonic bridges ("Detroit Swing 66"). The Gomez boys are shrewd planners, as well. (A band with three lead vocalists would have to be, really.) Singer Ben Ottewell's gruff, gravelly, cigarettes-and-whiskey voice is so distinctive and adds such a specific vibe to a song that he wisely sits back on some, including the title track, which requires a lighter vocal touch. Vocalists Ian Ball and Tom Gray handle the challenge with aplomb. "In Our Gun" is a lush, languid, yearning affair that picks up in its last quarter, changing into a frenetic dance mix. It turns the usual architecture of a Gomez album on its ear.

It's nice to have new material from this band to absorb. Whatever its music might be called, Gomez has yet to falter in its pursuit of original and dynamic sounds.


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