When an act severs ties with a major label, the next logical step is to sign with an indie stronghold and keep plugging away at the craft, a step that usually allows said act to expand its palette to incorporate elements that would have been too risky under the former deal. After being released last year from its contract with V2 Records, home to Moby and (until recently) the White Stripes, the Minneapolis heavy-pop combo 12 Rods decided on total self-containment.
Lost Time, 12 Rods' third long-player, was produced and issued by the band with no label imprint whatsoever. The cover artwork, depicting cartoon animal heads with their eyes blacked out in anonymity-protection fashion, reflects the Rods' new limited budget, but the corner-cutting happily ends there. The 11 tracks on Lost Time (including a spacey intro incorporating a ham-radio time-check sound bite) find the band evolving naturally, sacrificing neither sound nor substance.
The new album builds on the fire of 2000's Separation Anxieties, easily the year's most tragically overlooked release. Rare is the album where a Todd Rundgren production credit takes a backseat to the strength of the songs themselves, but Anxieties was it. The CD boasted hooks ripe for modern rock radio, with enough melodic savvy (not to mention Ryan Olcott's clear, sinewy voice) to keep 12 Rods from being just another noisy outfit to fuel an afternoon at the skatepark. The gloriously ironic coda, "Glad That It's Over," might be the most familiar Rods track to the public ear thanks to its inclusion on the Orange County soundtrack.
Judging by Lost Time, the recent change of environment hasn't diminished the band's creativity; it's also evidence that 12 Rods, wisely, hasn't soured its formula with drastic tampering. Potential hits abound once more: "Terrible Hands" fuses salty pep-rally shouts with a la-la chorus whose curveball chord progression would be foreign territory to most of today's alterna-pups, and "Twenty Four Hours Ago" dares the listener not to sing along with its I-will-survive refrain. As with previous efforts, lean synthesizer riffs (courtesy of Olcott's brother Ev) provide an edge of difference, not unlike Gary Numan's contribution to Fountains of Wayne. And it's a sonically crisp affair, the boys obviously having learned a few pointers from their stint with Rundgren.
In this trusty-brand-name era, Lost Time could be a hard sell without the backing of V2; still, it's probably not a major concern for 12 Rods. The band members' apparent goal is to continue serving up their own brainy rock broth on nobody's terms but their own. That Lost Time has the same sparkle as its bigger-budget predecessors should be classified as no small triumph.
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