The Miss Alans formed at Fresno State University, majoring in dreamy pop with minors in R.E.M. jangle and lightweight psychedelia. Smack the Horse is a more apt representation of the band’s technique than All Hail Discordia, which was recorded and mixed live to 2-track in a club and has a rushed, uneven quality to both the performances and production. Both albums highlight Miss Alans’ strengths, though: rhythm guitarist Scott Oliver’s wavery, hickoid vocals, Manny Diez’s piercing guitar leads, delicately crafted pop tunes and a subtle fascination with music’s cosmic edges. Plus, All Hail Discordia has the group turning Ted Nugent’s macho-rock “Great White Buffalo” into a trippy power pop stream with gnawing slide guitar and a gullible vocal.
Blusher is a major improvement, a calm clarification and expansion of the quartet’s sound — credit maturity, experience, adequate studio time and producer Tracy Chisholm, who’s worked with Belly. Oliver’s singing is far stronger and more assured, able to focus a simple electric pop song like “Mag Wheel” or the acoustic “Blurry Doll” to fine effect. But the gentle thrust of the album is in its blissed-out soft guitar washes — think British shoegazers like Spiritualized in a quiet phase — which provide laconic accompaniment to the tear-stained, often bitter but sometimes sanguine lyrics. Appealing and atmospheric numbers like “State of Grace,” the low-key “Supercharged” and “Winona” paint Miss Alans in pretty pastels with an emotional undertow; “Patti Smith Fan Club” and “The Sad Last Days of Elvis Aron Presley” adjoin celebrities to broader topics with poetic intelligence.
After parting ways with Zoo, the Miss Alans made a four-song 10-inch for an independent label and then signed with World Domination, which released Ledger the following summer.