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The Borrowers

Paloalto transforms the rock rip-off



I refuse to believe that there can be any originality in music. Everything has been done, every style has been created. "New" really means "slightly different blend of previously created styles not recently utilized."

I mean, look at the Germans. They're at the end of their rope. It's gotten to the point where they've begun banging on trash cans and harmonizing on lengths of railroad track for an original sound, but even that has already been done, by the Austrians, I believe, in 1991. Sad, but true.

So here we sit in the giant nightclub that is modern music, lamenting our last grand dance with grunge, getting drunk and trying to convince ourselves that MTV really is cute enough to sleep with, when in walks Paloalto. The striking confidence and gorgeous sensitivity of this new acquaintance drags us from our jaded slumber and, suddenly, we don't feel so pathetic.

Paloalto isn't some kind of musical phenom that has tapped into the godhead and served up a heapin' helpin' of NEW, but is instead a quiet observer, gleaning influence from the best of the past 35 or so years, blending it into a subtle cocktail of sound.

The band, which is not, by the way, from Palo Alto, was formed just six years ago when frontman and vocalist James Grundler floated into lead guitarist Jason Johnson and bassist Alex Parnell. Later additions of keyboardist Andy Blunda and drummer Florian Reinert rounded out the group.

One of these boys has listened to The Who quite a bit. It was probably Grundner, who not only sings but writes the majority of Paloalto's music, appears to be the band's spokeshottie and is usually the only person in clear focus in all of the record company promo shots. Grundler's song "Depression Age" opens with a drum solo so Keith Moon-y that I at first confused it with a cover of "A Quick One While He's Away." With the tinny tuning and repetitively alternating chords of "The Mayor and the Seizure Pills," the strong Who vibe is again present.

Another inspiration is Radiohead, a band equally adept at recycling old inspirations. Through no fault of his own, Grundler sounds very much like Thom Yorke, and that pained crooner quality lends itself seamlessly to the Paloalto's clean, smooth guitar work. The melancholia that Radiohead is famous for is just as evident throughout Paloalto's debut self-titled album on American Records. Like a lover who's done you wrong but wants back in your life, Grundler whispers his intelligent emotions into the listener's ear.

U2's Bono is another wounded minstrel whose aura creeps into Paloalto's sound. "Throw the Brick" opens with a veritable rehash of "Sunday Bloody Sunday" before moving into your basic modern rock rhythm, only to surface again during the bridge.

The Doors, Bush, Mudhoney, The Soup Dragons, Simon and Garfunkle, Motown, Donovan, Smashing Pumpkins ... we could go on forever. Almost every popular band in recent history has had a hand in the creation of Paloalto, but instead of being boring and disappointing, the band has turned the classic rip-off in to a highly evolved form of borrowing, distilling the best of old and new and presenting it in the most reverent of fashions. Which, in and of itself, might be new. Somebody better call the Germans.

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