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Aptly filling lauded
Brit-pop footsteps

Hard-Fi - Once Upon a Time In the West
3 1/2 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Feb. 4, 2008

Review by Andy Argyrakis

While the name Hard-Fi may only seem vaguely familiar to American audiences, its U.K. homeland rapturously received the band since debuting in 2002. The group's full-length debut Stars of CCTV rose to the top of the British charts, led to a 2005 Mercury Prize nomination and an unprecedented five night run for a freshman act at London's prestigious Brixton Academy (frequent home to The Clash and The Prodigy). The band is hoping to carry that momentum over to the States with Once Upon a Time In the West, turning in an eclectic blend of Brit-pop, punk rock, ska flourishes and even the occasional laptop sample.

Variety is the key to the disc's several apexes, which range from the harmony heavy, rigid dance rocker "I Close My Eyes" to the contemplative piano ballad "Tonight" and the horn-laced dust kicker "Little Angel." The disc's lead single "Suburban Knights" is a ska-influenced dose of pent up suburban angst, tied around a contagious guitar jangle and bountiful melodies. "I Shall Overcome" runs a close second for radio appeal, channeling the old school soul influences of fellow countrymen the Style Council crossed with modern day Maroon 5. Yet the guys aren't afraid to get down and dirty, especially on the Rolling Stones-like swagger of "Can't Get Along," which is once again tied around an anthemic chorus.

The only two snags Hard-Fi hits are the overtly dull "Help Me Please" and "The King." On the first, an almost country-centered approach seems out of place (in spite of the above abilities to productively jump stylistic planes), while the latter is supported by subtle loops and quiet strums that fall flat compared to higher volume compositions. Sans those tracks, this sophomore effort could very well be the band's official breakthrough that provides several instant sing-a-longs.

Watch Hard Fi - "Suburban Knights" video

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