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Jade Tree

Mike Fellows’ resume as a sideman contains stints with a number of notorious indie-rock misanthropes, including Will Oldham, Smog, and Royal Trux. But the former Rites of Spring bassist shows a penchant for friendly tunefulness in his solo debut as Miighty Flashlight, a PowerBook-produced project that largely forgoes the glitchy tricks that today’s bedroom computer-rockers can’t seem to live without. Instead, rudimentary acoustic- and electric-guitar riffs drive the songs, which range from casually hypnotic instrumentals (“Go On, Die. It’s Easy”) to sunny-side-up childhood recollections (“Several Water Cannons”) to oddball country stomps (“Ventilating Zephyrs”). Fellows isn’t a Beck-style folk prankster or a No Alternative crooner in disguise, however. Take the pretty, blues-informed “Ballet Skool”: The hand claps that appear midsong are an unexpected and welcome change in atmosphere, but they could easily have been a lamely ironic nod to rural soul or an ill-considered attempt to evoke a mountain mood. The weakest link is Fellows’ nasal talk-singing, which stays within a listenable range but never really loses its droopy, look-I’m-a-folk-singer affectation. And in a few spots, the album sounds a bit more like absent-minded guitar-shop picking than well-designed songwriting. Ah, the curse of the PowerBook: Too many folks believe the computer can compensate when they fail to play with verve. But to Fellows’ credit, on most of Miighty Flashlight, the machine never rules the man. —Joe Warminsky