Sweet Home Arizona

Closely affiliated for years with Jimmy Eat World, Reubens Accomplice has simultaneously benefited and suffered from the association. While the connection has enabled these talented Phoenix indie rockers to enhance their profile, it's also tended to make them look like eternal upstarts, junior-varsity emo kids following in big brother's footsteps.

The superficial similarities are unmistakable: Both bands share a penchant for rich, complex harmonies, loud-soft dynamic shifts, and lyrics that bleed confessional sincerity. Driving home the point, Jimmy Eat World frontman Jim Adkins produced this album - the sophomore full-length from Reubens - and released it on his own Western Tread imprint.

But that's the superficial stuff. Beneath all that, Reubens is a remarkably quirky and inventive group with uncommon songwriting acumen. The followup to 2001's I Blame the Scenery, the oddly titled The Bull, the Balloon, and the Family finds group leaders Chris Corak and Jeff Bufano working with a new rhythm section (including the incomparably precise John O'Reilly Jr. on drums) and unleashing their offbeat sense of humor and and worldview.

CD Spotlight

The Bull, The Balloon, and The Family

Reubens Accomplice

(Western Tread)

Right off the bat, with the sparse acoustic opening of the first song, "Big Apple, Small Heart," they address the post-modern self-awareness that cripples so much indie rock: "I'm conscious to a fault/that love songs are overdone cliché/and stand to be ridiculed." Having said that, they then proceed to blow their reticence apart.

Their wit reflects itself not only in the sardonic lyrics ("America, you look good/dressed to the nines in your big city diamonds") but in the musical details: adding honky-tonk pedal steel to "Tonight We Drink" and touches of accordion, banjo, and xylophone on various tracks. Along the way, you get a true glimpse of the Valley of the Sun: less a romantized saguaro desert than a parade of strip-malls, lost tweakers and bummed-out sensitive types who would like to get out, but don't know how. •

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