One of the distinct pleasures of making your living covering Vermont music is observing the evolution of local bands from promising upstarts into maturity. In truth, young acts bursting with potential are roughly a dime a dozen ’round these parts. My not-inconsiderable CD stacks runneth over with releases from flash-in-the-pan outfits who deliver a tantalizing appetizer or two and then recede into the shadows of anonymity. You never really know which bands will stick. But it’s always fun to watch when they do.
Witness In Memory of Pluto. The band has been among the area’s most dynamic live acts almost from inception. But they stumbled out of the gate with a frustrating self-titled debut EP. However, they rebounded with ferocity on their sophomore attempt, Cutting Open the Fiction, a disc that landed on Seven Days’ top 10 albums of 2008 and offered a vastly more accurate representation of the band. Now they return with 1994, a deliriously punchy and surprisingly hefty four-song EP that suggests IMOP are destined to make a lasting mark, locally and beyond.
From the outset, 1994 reveals an outfit rounding into top form. “Sometimes We Lie” reintroduces IMOP as a force of driving, guitar-fueled pop savagery — just in case you’d forgotten. Where much of their early work could be criticized for erring on the side of saccharine, the band reins in the overt hookery in favor of artfully restrained themes and melodies. In particular, vocalist Seth Gallant seems to have struck a balance between onstage firebrand and the more introspective writer he portrays in his solo work.
“Halloween” marks the clearest jump in maturation. To be sure, it’s still catchy as all hell. But there’s a gritty edge here recalling Where Have You Been-era Dinosaur Jr. And that’s a very good thing.
“Lift Into Frames” is similarly muscular and Mascis-ian; guitarists John Flanagan and Bill Jandl continue to evolve their rare synergy. Not to be out outdone, the rhythm section displays impressive cohesion amid the tune’s myriad shifts and turns. In particular, bassist Zach Jandl seems to have seriously locked in with drummer Ryan McGrath, especially on “Waltz,” which closes the EP in lighter-waving, fist-pumping 6/8 brilliance.
In Memory of Pluto have long been teasing us with an abundance of promise. So, too, is 1994 something of a tease, in that it fleetingly suggests the realization of that simmering potential. In fact the EP’s only shortcoming is just that: It’s short.