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New Orleans spirit on the rise

World Leader Pretend - Punches
(Warner Brothers Records)
4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: Nov. 5, 2005
World Leader Pretend

Review by Andy Argyrakis

Aside from a spot at SxSW in Austin, Texas earlier this year and some early press buzz surrounding a Warner Brothers debut, World Leader Pretend didn't receive the attention it deserved at first. But considering its members are based in New Orleans, many eyes have been on them as of late as they've been recovering from the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and the band's earned a wealth of support in the process. Despite the disaster, the players have pressed on, returning to the touring trenches, including an early spot at the coveted Voodoo Music Experience (at both the New Orleans and Memphis locations).
The group takes its name from an R.E.M. song of the same title and elements of the Michael Stipe led Athens artists are clearly present on Punches. In fact, the singer and his group have already signed off on World Leader Pretend's efforts, offering well wishes plus a dedication from the stage when both acts played at the same show overseas. Beyond that reference, the disc steers away from the party pop of fellow statesmen Cowboy Mouth and Better Than Ezra in favor of swelling arrangements, lush piano explosions and Coldplay-like insistency. Take for instance the lead cut "Bang Theory," which is a four-minute rush of power chords laced with melodic temperament and memorable hooks. It's followed by the subdued, trance-inducing "Dreamdaddy" and the Brit induced jangle of "New Voices," further demonstrating this disc's varying dynamics.
Later on the guys turn towards the sound effect drenched "Tit For Tat," pitting all sorts of bells and whistles with swirling pianos and mystical singing. "Into Thin Air" is perhaps the disc's most haunting as its filled with chilling guitars and echoing vocals, while the eight minute "A Grammarian Stuck In a Medical Drama" is unquestionably the most experimental, staring out like a placid ballad and ramping up with uninhibited energy. As a whole, Punches places World Leader Pretend on a pedestal that should only continue to rise in height with every day that its hometown's floodwaters die down.

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