I like Yep Roc a lot, but they stepped outside of their comfort zone when they signed Chapel Hill youngsters Cities to their label. The band’s self-titled debut was issued earlier this year, unleashing yet another post-Joy Division, post-Cure outfit onto a scene that was red-hot two years ago, firmly established in 2005, and saggingly, soggily over-saturated in 2006. We already have the Bravery, Bloc Party, and Interpol. We didn’t really need Cities, especially since they aren’t as good as their first-gen brethren. And, as it turns out, we also didn’t need Variations, an EP of remixes. (Again, they ain’t no Bloc Party.) On the other hand, these re-imaginings successfully displace the band from their cluttered genre. Song to song, they sound less like themselves, as well. Since the songwriting and performances on Cities didn’t offer much in the way of diversity, the sonic range on the new EP is refreshing, at least. And, on a couple of occasions, the remixes surpass the originals, creating something distinctive. Isan’s glitch-pop take on “Writings on the Wall” is quite good, while Ladytron’s version of the same song is another gem. But that track was also among the best on the original album, and the two bands doing the mixing are the coolest acts on Variations. Ill-advised is Fog’s “Black Metal” mix of “OOC” and the choppy, sour-toned “CacheFlow Remix” of “Lancer”. Several of these reworkings, by stripping back the fullness of the source’s guitar-bass-drums mix, places Josh Nowlan’s sometimes-unsteady mewling up front, naked and off-key. Unfortunately, over the course of the disc’s eight tracks and 32 minutes, the highlights are obscured by the duds. With Cities, Yep Roc find themselves a distinctive band and a year or two late in their stab at hipness. Hopefully, they’ll stick to their strengths in the future, keeping vibrant the careers of proven, middle-aged alt-pop-rock acts like Billy Bragg, Robyn Hitchcock, and Paul Weller. The gray hairs look good on Yep Roc. Cities do not.
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