Gold-Bears – Dalliance

Gold-Bears’ choice of a title for their second album telegraphs reams of intent. “Dalliance” doubles as the name of a touchstone single by the Wedding Present, the Britpop band to whom the Gold-Bears are inevitably compared. It also marked the pivot point when the Weddoes shifted to a more abrasive sound, apparently an aspiration for this Atlanta quintet as well.

Truth be told, Dalliance isn’t much of a departure from the Gold-Bears’ excellent 2012 debut, Are You Falling In Love? And although WedPrez fans will undoubtedly find much to love, for my money the band still has more in common with the more frenetic and obscure Boyracer. This sophomore outing does open more aggressively, primarily owing to a more forceful rhythm section, but the most noticeable evolution is in Jeremy Underwood’s angrier lyrics and breathless vocals, perhaps triggered by the lead Bear’s recent divorce. For evidence check the thrilling “Chest” – when agitated Underwood sounds a bit like the Buzzcocks’ Pete Shelley. This is a quintessential breakup album, although Underwood allows a modicum of equal time for the recriminations to fly back toward him as well.

Underwood has better luck with women as guest vocalists. Emma Cooper (late of UK indie faves Standard Fare) contributes a great duet counterpoint on opener “Yeah, Tonight,” and Black Tambourine’s Pam Berry’s subtle backing touches on “From Gainesville to Tallahassee” (a drive Florida native Underwood has undoubtedly made countless times) along with sleigh bells and echoey production evoke the vibe of girl group pop by way of the Jesus and Mary Chain.

Gold-Bears stumbled on Are You Falling In Love? when they varied the pace from a C86 frenzy – this is the terrain on which Dalliance makes its forward leap. “Hey, Sophie” rides a Johnny Marr-worthy jangly circular guitar riff; its chorus, “For better or worse, this is life” reads like a textbook Morrissey mope but as delivered by Underwood it sounds poignant and vaguely optimistic. And speaking of poignant, the two-chord closing coda “Fathers and Daughters” is a heartfelt hip dad love note he’ll hopefully revisit with his toddler in a dozen years’ time.

While Dalliance may be a musical and personal misnomer, it’s about the only place the Gold-Bears miss the mark on this album.