Artful Dodgers

The A-Sides have come a long way. The sharp garage riffing of their debut seven-inch could have passed for the Who, while the dewy psychedelia of their full-length Hello, Hello approached the lofty leagues of Pet Sounds and Odessey and Oracle. As rewarding as those first two phases were, the Philly band still felt stranded in the '60s, revisiting an idyllic era of larger-than-life bands and surreally overstuffed albums.

Silver Storms, the A-Sides' first album for Vagrant, bears few whiffs of decades past. It is ambitious rock of its own breed and time, with orchestral-minded anthems that shiver and cascade as front man John Barthmus sings softly with a heavy heart. He may come off sad most of the time, but the band is always building to crescendos that buoy Barthmus' post-card-worthy turns of phrase.

"Say something cinematic," he advises, "or become a tragic figure." Coming amid a hammering drum beat, strong gusts of vocal harmonies and endless layers of shimmer, it's an infectious call to arms. Barthmus has a thing for legends—and not just those of the silver screen. "My Heroes Have Always Been Crazy" and "Great American Novelist" are soaked through with wistful mythology, and on "Diamonds," he sings, "Let's learn to keep on going/And never grow old."

Barthmus may dwell on big ideas, but he refuses to see just good or bad in any of them. Similarly, the other four A-Sides come together to pull the heart in many directions at once. Silver Storms is grand yet intimate, plaintive yet uplifting, pretty yet raucous. It's the rare rock album that actually takes you somewhere without relying on artful dodges or dodgy art-school antics. For once, the songs are strong enough to stand on their own.

The A-Sides perform with Say Hi (To Your Mom), the Velvet Teen and Gillmor at the Glass House, 200 W. Second St., Pomona, (714) 647-7704; Fri., 7 p.m. $10-$12.

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