We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
Four years ago, Wheat was happy surfing the late-’90s neo-emo wave. But as the likes of Dashboard Confessional and Taking Back Sunday began bulking up their audiences on MTV2, the Taunton, Mass., trio and its brand of benevolent, subdued indie rock became stuck in label-deal limbo. Some good must have happened to the band in the interval, however, because Wheat’s first LP for a major, Per Second, Per Second, Per Second…Every Second, is an unexpected lunge toward pop bliss. The group’s last long-player, 1999’s Hope and Adams, was a charming work of languorous rhythms and lovely guitar melodies interrupted by stretches of the dissonant spelunking that would define Yankee Hotel Foxtrot a few years later. If this earlier material had a serenely half-awake quality to it, Per Second seems as if it has just hopped out of bed, slugged a cup of joe, and hit the treadmill. The opener, “I Met a Girl,” is a cheeky, manic tune about strained fidelity (“I met a girl I’d like to know better/But I’m already with someone”) on which singer/guitarist Scott Levesque, once prone to hushed, candlelit vocals, throws around his broad, made-for-radio voice with new abandon. “Some Days” features cheeky falsetto hooting and even a wah-wahed guitar solo. And on the driving “Life Still Applies,” Levesque’s high-alto voice soars like Bends-era Thom Yorke’s, sustained by a double-time drumbeat and glossy, happy-making guitars. Most of the time, this new spunk is welcome. Occasionally, though, the Big Pop Sound of Per Second verges on varnished, Pete Yorn-y generica. The preening perfection of “World United Already” sounds like Teenage Fanclub recording the theme for a new WB teen-angst series, complete with Top 40 lyrical vapidity (“It’s good to find the truth/It’s hard to find/Just don’t let yourself run out of time”). Still, most such missteps are followed by a winning comeback. In this case, it’s the fuzzed-out, slow-building “Hey, So Long (Ohio)”; in others, the bouncing, good-hearted “Closer to Mercury” or the sparkling, anthemic “These Are Things.” Per Second, it turns out, is a successful stylistic transitionafter all this time, it’s good to see Wheat grow. Michael Crowley