The reclusive, elusive Iran release their third record after six years of silence, and the sound -- once noisy and gnarled -- is so toned down it could be mistaken for the work of an entirely different band.
Well I'll be darned. For years, locating an Iran record was about as likely as spotting a one-legged wombat on the Interstate. Precious little was known about the band and its members even before their first two releases, Iran (2000) and The Moon Boys (2003), went out of print and all but vanished from the earth, and in 2007 they could have been in Tahiti, or dead, or Richard D. James playing a practical joke, for all we knew. But Iran is alive and real, and for reasons that aren't very clear, the San Francisco-based noise-pop trio of singer/multi-instrumentalist Aaron Aites and guitarists Kyp Malone and Aaron Romanello have come suddenly out of the woodwork to catapult Dissolver into wide release -- their first record after nearly six years of nothing.
Aites calls Dissolver "very hi-fi", "more structured" and more "fully fleshed out" than Iran and The Moon Boys, and he isn't kidding. For those familiar with Iran's previous output, the overhauls are so striking that it initially seems like the work of entirely different personnel. Where once we needed to sift through layers of noisy, guitar feedback-begotten scrap metal to find the tilted pop hooks underneath (only band I knew that could make Sebadoh sound like the Softies), here they're naked in the manner of classic rock, with the noise reduced to accents and slight post-production overlays. No longer must we infer the lyrics, coiled bundles of prickly steel wool; we can hear them loud and clear.
On some level, Iran must have been aware of the edginess and mystique surrounding their early music enough to go out of their way to vanquish it, but in its place is something nearly as special. From the stoner rock swinger "Baby Let's Get High One Time Tonight" to the unfailingly sweet "Buddy", Dissolver wears its sincerity and sentimentality right on its sleeve. When, at the conclusion of the album's affecting standout "Airport '79" Aites cries "You don't know who I am" on repeat, it sounds so much like an apology for not allowing us to get to know him sooner. It's a surprisingly good look for Iran, one that still features enough instrumental abrasion for those who loved the old band's tricks, and it confidently confirms the pop wonderment that's lurked through their music all along. I do worry a little about the album following -- if each of their records has served as a step in a trajectory toward accessibility, will their next one have Clear Channel a-calling? -- but that's an issue for another day. For Dissolver marks the beginning of a new era for Iran, and I suspect we'll be hearing more from them as the decades turn over.