The Alpha Conspiracy
Astropop 3
Michael Barrett
Fabulous Disaster
Knoxville Girls
Lemon Jelly
Tom Nunn
2nd Gen
The Stone Coyotes
Train Don't Leave Me
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eclipsing binary star
Astropop 3
Eclipsing Binary Star
Planting Seeds

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Renowned indie/pop classicists Astropop 3 have returned with a solid second album of twining harmonies, fuzzy guitar and space-is-the-place production -- and it comes just in time. "Power-pop" has joined "alternative" as a category bloated beyond all meaning; under the big tent of P-Pop, bands with a few fuzzy guitars mingle freely with rock bands who happen to sing in harmony, resulting in a tag that's all-encompassing, but signifies less and less about a band's actual aesthetic. Virginia Beach-based Astropop 3 avoid this muddled vagueness while embodying the strengths that first defined the genre.

Eclipsing Binary Star starts off, unfortunately, on a weak foot; the sickly-sweet acoustic lead track, "The Courage to be Great Lies in Every One of Us", is the aural equivalent of a "Hang in There!" kitten poster. Astropop frontman (and seemingly only permanent member) Dan Villanueva has been at this since 1995, though, and his experience quickly comes to the fore as the album begins to acquire some bite in the midst of its dreamy, jubilant pop. Over the course of the remaining 11 songs Astropop add twirling guitars, boy-girl vocals, handclaps, manic drums and echo-laden effects to smartly written gems chronicling the hopes and insecurities of life. "Same Old Story" tells the tale of "boy meets girl and/loses girl and/wants her back again" with a twist; "So..." contains the kiss off "I'd rather be dead/than be you", sung with such sweet verve that you can't help but be smitten as well as chagrined.

A more sinister strain appears in the spoken monologue of "Revenge", although the vocal is far enough down in the mix (as is the case with the rest of the record) that it's hard to determine the exact nature of the trouble. Many of these tracks could be mistaken for lost gems from the fabled Nuggets era of mid-'60s garage pop, another period when sterling melodies and noisy guitars made cosy bedfellows. But the concluding track, "Now and Always", returns to the quiet acoustic tone of the first song with a more fulfilling result. "There's no use crying," Villanueva advises, "don't be afraid of yourself." Eclipsing Binary Star's hummable self-help proves to be the perfect pick-me-up.

-- Ryan Tranquilla
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