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With 2011’s Young People’s Church of the Air, D.C.-bred Deleted Scenes gave in to their kooky impulses. Oh, the polar electronic dirge “A Bunch of People Who Love You Like Crazy,” the helium funk bounce of “English as a Second Language,” the lonesome guitar droplets on “Bedbedbedbed.” These sounds all snowballed into an erratic LP that was eccentrically winsome in a way that could come across a little too well manicured, kind of like the genre the four-piece decided to list on their Facebook page: Compulsively Apologetic Hyphy-Pop.
Deleted Scenes keep getting stranger on their new third album, Lithium Burn. That’s obvious from the opening song, “Haircuts Uniforms,” a gnarled post-punk anthem with a herky-jerky pulse and a chorus that sounds like chipmunks harmonizing with a miniature church organ. The sparkling, nearly indiscernible (but immediately accessible) refrain drives the track forward and sets the stage for Deleted Scenes’ experimental stabs at new outré-pop combinations.
The band’s alchemy peaks with the previously released single “Stutter,” on which shrill guitars that tingle the spine drop into the track like an axe pendulum. Frontman Dan Scheuerman uses plenty of delay to morph his vocals till they, well, stutter. The band’s video for the track is pretty out there too: In it, Dustin Diamond (aka Screech from Saved by the Bell) gets his face pounded in by some car mechanics, blows an audition, and ends up submerged in a pool for a lot longer than it appears he can handle.
For all of Deleted Scenes’ flamboyant tendencies, some of the strongest moments on Lithium Burn are those that don’t rock the boat too much. On “House of Dust,” for example, the band mixes a solemn piano melody, stark electronic drumming, and effervescent guitars that are gentle even when coated in fuzz, making for a sweetly melancholic track that I could see getting slipped into the rotation at a corporate rock radio station. The smoldering guitar solo sounds like it came straight from Soundgarden piecing together “Black Hole Sun.”
Even when Deleted Scenes shoots straight, there’s something unconventional about its presentation. “Let’s Not Try to Fix Everything at Once” has warm, glowing key melodies and jubilant handclaps that the Shins could’ve very well used in a pleasantly catchy ode to puppy love, but in Deleted Scenes’ hands, these elements make for something more somber: It’s a song about struggling to tackle the mundane tasks of adulthood while following a career path everyone else pegs as something that should be outgrown.
Deleted Scenes have attained a level of acclaim many musicians can only hope for, but on “Let’s Not Try to Fix Everything at Once,” Scheuerman shatters whatever illusions of success still exist around indie rock when he despondently sings about failing to make student loan payments and asks for a little more time with his music. In a way, Deleted Scenes are a pretty ordinary band—it just gets a bit odd when the members earnestly express themselves.