Words like "sublime" get thrown around a lot in music reviews, a little too recklessly, if you ask this writer. The overall effect is to cheapen the adjective's value when something comes around that truly measures up. Elegant modern pop-rocker Arthur Yoria's newest EP is one of the few (local or national) CDs that does. Hell, go ahead and let it be said: Yoria defines sublime.
The five songs here all sound familiar even at first listen, in the sense that ex-Jeepney Yoria is not about ostentation at all. He's less about originality of form than he is about filling the same old pop mold with sterling content. There's nothing flashy here -- it's all about the cool, and nobody does the cool better than Yoria and company. It's not just Yoria's vocals and lyrics that shine here; he's also assembled one of the state's most accomplished young bands. Drummer Ilya Kolozs and bassist Dwayne Casey (both also ex-Jeepneys) are content to stay unobtrusively in the background, but headphone listening reveals a latticelike intricacy to their interplay.
Pedal steel player Matt Rhodes comes to the fore more obviously, and it's hard to think of a young musician in Houston who's doing more to further his instrument stylistically. In his hands (and with his feet and knees), the steel is proved capable of so much more than simulated weeping on C&W numbers (not that there's anything wrong with that). Here, it functions more as a lead guitar at times and as a keyboard at others. Sometimes it's just another layer in the mix, and elsewhere it's at the very razor's edge of the sound. In his hands, the pedal steel becomes solid silver, and it's his playing that gives the band its trademark sheen.
For his part, Yoria's crystalline high tenor provides insanely addictive melodies and lyrics that are catchy enough to rob you of sleep. On the EP, almost every song is better than the last, which is saying something considering the opener, "A Brand New Reason," is potent enough. The band rocks out through about five gears on "It's Now Something Else," and the solemnly cinematic "My Best Routines" will have you directing videos for it inside your head.
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All in all, a grand EP, if such a thing isn't a contradiction in terms. Here's hoping Yoria can release a full-lengther of equal power and of the same quality soon. Here's also hoping that the world outside Houston will sit up and take note.