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A worthy second album from Strata

I guess this is the guilty pleasure album of the year. The flaws on Strata's sophomore album, "Strata Presents the End of the World," stick out like a group of scene kids at a Philharmonic concert, and yet the album is still enjoyable and worthy of many repeat listenings -- if you're not too picky.

First of all, let me Sparknote the history of Strata: The quartet started some years ago under the name Downside. The band self-released an EP, "Sleep," which underwhelmed everyone with overly miserable nu metal. But the band tweaked up and released a self-titled debut in 2004 as Strata. The music was still dark and gloomy, but the sound was so direct and fierce it turned out to be an intriguing, hypnotic debut.

So now we arrive at "Strata Presents the End of the World." Is it sophomore slump? Hard to tell. If you listened to the debut and this album, you'd probably never guess it was the same band. The guys sound a lot happier. Even the songs that are supposed to be all serious are comparatively brighter and livelier than their past songs.

Thankfully, its few disappointments don't trump the album's best moments. Many old fans will probably say Strata is "selling out," since everyone loves to throw that term around, but truthfully, they're not. As good as their debut was, it left a desire for a more expansive sound.

Strata achieves that here: Every song on "The End of the World" has its own mood and feel. We instantly get the sense of the band's new direction in the album's opener, "Night Falls (The Weight of It)," a dreamy palette of lush melodies, tornado drums and soft falsettos. Strata greatly expands its instrumentation, and even shows off a little with two brief instrumental segues: "The Brothers," which has a cool urban vibe like something off the "Fight Club" soundtrack, and the light, cheery piano tune "Natoma Alley."

They sound like they're having a lot of fun experimenting with new things. "Poughkeepsie, N.Y." has a chorus that sounds like something from a Sunday sermon but still stirs up an epic arena rock climax. "Cocaine (We're All Going To Hell)" dabbles with some '80s dance vibes. They bring in some good old faint piano melodies to close out the album with the touching "Daylight in the City." Frontman Eric Victorino greatly improves his singing style, ditching his marble-mouthed growl for a clearer, more expressive voice. He's published a book of his poems, "Coma Therapy" (also the name of the album's first ballad), but his lyrics leave a bit to be desired. Sorry, Eric, you're not the first to write lines like "The first of the tears to fall hurts the worst of all," "Don't give up on us," or "I have nobody if I don't have you" -- all of which appear in the same song.

The band goes after so many ambitions that they obviously can't fulfill them all. But when they trip, they fall pretty hard. "Love Is Life" really wants to be a tender ballad, but turns out sounding grossly sentimental. And "The New National Anthem," an attempt to jump on the ever-growing bandwagon of Bush-bashing bands, is by far one of their worst songs ever. The lyrics sound like something I might've written during my two-week die-hard liberal phase in eighth grade, and it doesn't help that they're played over terribly generic punk riffs that sound like an "American Idiot" B-side.
For all its faults, "The End of the World" is still incredibly fun, as long as you can wash that taste of major mainstream appeal out of your mouth.

DOWNLOAD THESE: "Night Falls (The Weight Of It)," "Poughkeepsie, N.Y."

Jason Silverstein will be a junior at Williamsville North.

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