Review ·

The cover art for Laughter's Fifth suggests the Beatles' Revolver, but any influences here are translated into a decidedly modern slang. Love as Laughter, which broke into the mainstream recently by contributing background music to a scene in The O.C. with a stiff and creepy George Lucas cameo, fits right in with the literate indie-rock counterparts they'll be compared to. But I get the feeling the band members -- singer/guitarist Sam Jayne, guitarist Jessica Espeleta and drummer Dave Schneider -- could do this with their eyes closed.

This is Love as Laughter's first since 2001 (Jayne took time out to do the solo thing) and fifth overall (made obvious by the customer-friendly title), and the band is content to unwind slowly. Jayne starts off with his best Tom Petty on opener "In Amber," followed by the Pavement-style vocals and word rhythms of "Idol Worship" and "Survivors." If this leaves you confused as to what direction the album is likely to take next, it'll start to stick together with the innocent bass line and timid piano tink of "Every Midnight Song." The build-up is intense, and soon enough the bass and piano are furious amid a storm of guitar squall. If you can see through it all, take note of how comfortably Jayne is able to move in and out. Love as Laughter is always in complete control.

In "Dirty Lives," Jayne is mildly interested in exploring how his questionable deeds will be judged, but he's more interested in providing a groovy bass line and hand-clapped rhythm to serve as the background soundtrack for behavior that will one day be need to be judged. Those gleeful hand-claps show up again on "Canal Street," which nails what it's like to take in New York City, complete with guitar that's windy and woozy from sensory overload. The guitar drone over the spaced-out beats of "Pulsar Radio" is totally Yo La Tengo (Tu La Tienes?). The only thing missing are some crickets and patch of grass on which to take it all in: "You hear the stars at night and they're coming out of the galaxies, dancing to the pulsar radio."

Refreshingly, Love as Laughter doesn't take itself too seriously: this is smart rock completely devoid of pretentiousness. There's a kazoo on the breezy Wilco-inspired guitar pickings of "Corona Extra," and on "I am a Ghost," Jayne flat-out admits: "I'm a ghost and I float around your house parties flirting with your guests sometimes."

That the band members don't brood or feel the need to apply manufactured edge by naming themselves the Killers proves that they've always been a step ahead of the game. It's likely that all this fun will be interpreted as a lack of cohesiveness, thereby keeping Laughter's Fifth off year-end Top Ten lists. That'd be a shame, but there's no disputing that this is the happiest rock album of the year so far.

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