Ada Jane | Never Been Better (P.A.W.)

cd_adajane"On Your Level," the second track on Never Been Better, has the underdog anthem qualities of classic Replacements, Matt Marka singing in a rough-throated howl over guitars that have the wild fury of Bob Stinson but the lo-fi buzz of Hüsker Dü-era Bob Mould.

 

 

 

 

Ada Jane hail from Minneapolis, Minn., and you don't have to get very far into the band's latest record before that fact smacks you right between the eyes. "On Your Level," the second track on Never Been Better, has the underdog anthem qualities of classic Replacements, Matt Marka singing in a rough-throated howl over guitars that have the wild fury of Bob Stinson but the lo-fi buzz of Hüsker Dü-era Bob Mould. The mellow "This Is My Broom" may reference the Replacements' "Left of the Dial" in its first verse, but the gentle, vaguely country ballad would sound more at home in the Jayhawks' songbook. There's even a tinge of Soul Asylum in the rocker "High to Low," easily the album's highlight.

Yet despite some obvious touchstones, Ada Jane have a sound all their own. After three albums as the Matt Marka Band, the band's first album under its new moniker stretches out in all kinds of directions, yet contains a surprising cohesiveness. There are blistering rockers (the Kings of Leon-ish blues workout "You'll Never Be Satisfied"), yearning ballads (the dark "Everybody Else Bailed," featuring lovely backing vocals by Larissa Anderson), and even bouncy pop ("The Wayside," a song that slaughters Barenaked Ladies at their own game). Yet despite the variety, the songs are tied together by Marka's pleasingly ragged voice and a guitar style that impeccably fills in just the right blanks in every song. Though the tempo slows throughout, Never Been Better never loses a listener's interest, holding a consistent mood and consistently high quality throughout its 11 tracks.

Ada Jane is obviously a labor of love for Marka, and was recorded on the cheap and definitely sounds like it. The lo-fi sound isn't a detriment to the album overall—especially on the guitars, which sound great with a little bit of grime on them—but there are a few times where a little more polish would have pushed already good songs to greatness. The biggest way that the production fails is in the drums. Charlie Wilson is certainly a fine drummer, but with his kit so thin in the mix, some of the rockers (particularly the previously mentioned "On Your Level" and the careening rocker "Tally Up") sound empty without some more muscle behind the percussion.

Still, with uniformly strong songwriting played by a tight power trio, Matt Marka and Ada Jane have crafted a fine first album that's definitely worth seeking out. A- | Jason Green

RIYL: Minneapolis rock, circa the late-'80s

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