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IDLE WILDS (Buy CDs by this artist)
Big Hit Records EP (no label) 1993
Dumb, Gifted and Beautiful (Ardent) 1995

Pennsylvania's Idle Wilds play gorgeous pop music that draws a time line directly from the Beatles to Big Star — and in doing so, the band draws attention to itself. The melodies on the Big Hit Records EP reveal singer/songwriter David Gray (no, not that David Gray) to be a pop imagist on a par with Tommy Keene or Marshall Crenshaw — though his themes wallow more in dark self-pity than giddy optimism. "Freakin'" is a hooky Matthew Sweet-style tune; "All the Wrong Reasons" locates its melody and arrangement on the Left Banke; "You're Cool" evokes classic Illinois melody-makers like Pezband and Off Broadway. All the songs are near-perfect, and Big Hit Records is not to be missed by even casual fans of power pop.

The quartet's full-length debut, Dumb, Gifted and Beautiful, mixes a slew of fresh originals and new versions of some of the EP's best songs. Repeats include the chorus-pushing "Crying on the Inside" and the heartstring-pulling "Surrounded," as well as "Freakin'." Excessive use of guitar feedback sometimes shrouds the hooks, but Dumb, Gifted and Beautiful — recorded at Ardent Studios and produced by John Hampton — is generally as good as earthy pop music gets.

[Jordan Oakes]