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Melanoid returns with vibrant EP

ORANGE COUNTY REGISTER

Melanoid, Jamais Vu EP (self-released, available on Bandcamp, iTunes and Amazon) – John Hanson, the half of this estimable local act that also sings, has been so busy providing solid journeyman's fretwork for pop newcomer Christina Perri this past year that he and creative partner Chris Sorem needed even longer to finally follow up their striking 2009 debut, Asleep in the Wake. (Well, he did get to play the Hollywood Bowl because of it.)

Unlike so many other O.C. groups worth noting, from Kiev to Blok, Melanoid hasn't been honing its sound on stage as a complement to whatever experiments click in their recording chambers. By choice or force or a bit of both, Hanson and Sorem have gone the route of solitary studio creatures like Andy Partridge, sealing themselves off from going trends, poring over parts meticulously and, for all their trouble and intermittent toil, culling winsome pop vistas out of cramped, windowless spaces.

The results are marvelous: instantly appealing slices of melodic joy evoking McCartney in the early '70s, XTC in the late '80s, Jon Brion and Jellyfish, Rivers Cuomo and ELO. Across 21 minutes they take partly-cloudy sweetness to sunny extremes ("Haunted") and prove unafraid of offsetting irresistible power-pop ("Sweet America") or a frothy pot of Radiohead-steeped tea ("1998") with major-seventh melancholy, most prominently in the lushness of "Emily," which bears distinct traces of My Morning Jacket in the chorus yet eventually achieves a kaleidoscopic feel all its own. That's four sterling keepers, all of which outdo anything from an already sparkling debut, plus one very good B-side, "Repositioning," which overreaches until it starts to drift. Yet even that one is exquisitely detailed, not to mention miles ahead of most peers. Grade: A-

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