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Pleasant Grove

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Album Review

The eponymous debut from Dallas' Pleasant Grove is shimmering, majestic pop — or lethargic country music. Take your pick. It displays the pretty, melodic tendencies of the former but literally bleeds the latter from its used, tired bones. Pleasant Grove is full of forlorn rural pleas and the ragged, twanged harmony singing of co-vocalists Marcus Striplin and Bret Egner that just oozes the down-and-out ache of hardcore country from the rock era-George Jones, Willie Nelson, and Gram Parsons. But those allusions are dreadfully ill equipped to describe the pleasures of the band, and they don't begin to accurately capture the sonic hallmarks of their sound. The music, first and foremost, is slow and tranquilizing, never quite decelerating into drone but treading water at the same narcotic speed as fellow Texans Bedhead. It is not, however, hushed or quiet. "Demonic" has the sort of scrape-and-nails guitar that might fight its way out of a Pavement song, while the ten-minute long "Nothing This Beautiful" — as wide open and expansive as the Southwest plains — ebbs and flows from fragile ballad to buzz saw guitar solo, from broken-down dreaming to triumphant persistence. On the brokenhearted epic "Reset the Code," Egner's voice is Alex Chilton, Neil Young, and Wayne Coyne all at once, and the song has as much emotional potency (and eccentricity) as those sad-voiced peers consistently mustered throughout their careers. But the song goes far beyond a single emotional hue, progressing through a multitude of sonic depths and textures, from the tormented opening minutes to the full-on wall-of-guitar to the closing metallic bombast. It is several minutes shorter, but no less grand than "Nothing This Beautiful." Languid might be an understated description for Pleasant Grove. They only manage six songs in about forty minutes, but after the slow burn those six songs impress, you feel like you've walked through the desert. It is an arduous task, to say the least, but when it's over it feels like an intense accomplishment, one that might even make you a better person. The apparent despair in the lyrics notwithstanding, Pleasant Grove is ultimately about perseverance. It is loaded with the type of glass-half-full optimism and hopefulness that makes it possible to pull oneself from the depths. In the open-plains cowboy harmonizing of "Wide Open," it's possible to hear the sound of salvation just over that distant horizon.


Formed: Dallas, TX

Genre: Alternative

Years Active: '90s, '00s

Mixing spacious, dramatic instrumentation with the rootsy twang of an alt-country outfit, Pleasant Grove took root in the late '90s. Marcus Striplin and Bret Egner shared frontman duties from the start -- both of them competent vocalists and guitarists in their own right -- and the Dallas-based quintet (which also included members Tony Hormillosa, Chris Mayes, and Jeff Ryan) made a splash at the South by Southwest festival in 2000. Germany's Glitterhouse Records took notice and released Pleasant...
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Pleasant Grove, Pleasant Grove
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