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July 19, 2002

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The Californian

Sunday's Best

Polyvinyl Records

Any listeners unable to tell from the title of this LP that Sunday's Best are from Los Angeles will quickly be clued in by the heavy '70s West Coast influences. While it may be trendy to claim that your band follows the lead of groups like Television or the Stooges, not many musicians are willing to own up to taking their cues from Fleetwood Mac. If nothing else, then, you have to admire the courage of a group like Sunday's Best, who shed their indie-rock beginnings in favor of the relaxed studio-based style that was supposedly killing rock and roll a quarter-century ago. Credit lead singer Edward Reyes for this change—the departure of guitarist and songwriter Pedro Benito from the group led to Reyes taking over primary songwriting responsibilities, and unlike Benito's jangly, earnest numbers, Reyes writes songs that you might find in a time capsule buried in Stephen Stills' backyard. The retro California sound can most clearly be heard on "Don't Let it Fade," which would fit on any adult-contemporary station, and "If We Had it Made," where Reyes name-checks the ultimate glamour couple in Richard Nixon's America: "I'll be McQueen, you'll be Ali McGraw." Even the Americana-tinged "Beethoven St." manages a perfect vintage country-rock sound, all Gram Parsons and no Jay Farrar. The Californian departs significantly from Sunday's Best's previous work, but it remains a strong effort—perhaps even their best yet. Reyes clearly doesn't see the point in thinking up a perfectly good pop hook only to bury it beneath layers of guitar distortion and mumbled vocals, and given all the lo-fi posing that occurs now this is a welcome attitude indeed. If I weren't afraid of writing in publicity snippets, I might even suggest that The Californian would sound perfect on your car stereo for the remainder of this summer.

—Tom Zimpleman

Hours of Operation

Friction

Polyvinyl Records

If anyone out there dreams of enhancing their Friction collection, here's your chance: Hours of Operation contains absolutely everything. The 32 songs on this double-CD represent everything the trio recorded in a studio; there will be not be a further EP or import B-side forthcoming. Obviously, Hours of Operation was a labor of love for somebody at Polyvinyl: Friction were fairly prominent on the Chicago indie scene in the early '90s, and lead singer Bob Nanna went on to participate in Braid and Hey Mercedes, but they were not an obvious candidate for a retrospective this elaborate; the rather thick liner notes include complete lyrics and production notes to every song and even a listing of the date, location, and accompanying band of every live show the group played. If it's a labor of love, though, it's also a stroke of good luck for the rest of us. Nothing here can be considered earth shattering, but its good, serviceable emo, the kind of stuff you might expect to hear blaring from

an impromptu parking lot gathering of A&P employees late on a Friday night. Since they recorded from 1991-1994, Friction predates both Green Day and the advent of today's "emo," which is useful only to skater punks looking for something to accompany their paint-huffing sessions. This is a fine reminder, then, that there was a time not so long ago when calling yourself a punk was not a sign of lameness, and when even suburban bands playing for the hell of it tried to be thoughtful and challenging. Songs like "Semiotician," a nice little instrumental track played to a talk radio discussion of the semiotics of fashion magazines, and a half-hearted cover of The Misfits' "Hybrid Moments" are enough to recommend this album by themselves, and the second disc contains their 1994 output, showing the group coming into their own before their ill-timed break up. While there's a little unnecessary repetition - two versions of "Box Turtle" and "Cassyflies" from their only LP, Blurred in Six - and the unfortunate inclusion of a live version of "Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow" that I can only presume is a bow to last year's trend of wacky ironic covers, Hours of Operation will nevertheless leave you feeling that Friction easily deserved more exposure during their active days.

—TZ