The Reputation 

To Force a Fate

Imagine '80s power-popper Tommy Keene cast as Jacob Marley in A Christmas Carol, hunched over by the weight of his Telecaster, dragging shackles made of glowing record reviews, and imploring into the gloom, "Elizabeth Elmooooore!" Elmore, singer and guitarist for the Reputation, would be career-savvy to heed the haunting paradox of her predecessors: namely, that melodious pop-rock, unpretentious and unaffiliated, played with big heart and big guitar, is likely to lead down the dim one-way alley to cult obscurity.

Not that To Force a Fate, the Chicago quartet's second LP, has much in common with your uncle's old Rubinoos records -- its candidness and lightly dissonant angles are a reminder of the '90s indie scene Elmore crashed with her previous outfit, Sarge. But almost half this album is pure pop, starting with the indelible opener "Let This Rest." This unusually empathetic lovers' feud tune shoots straight -- It's exhausting us both now, always so pissy and proud -- and lifts off on the arches of Elmore's bell-like voice, up into a neon sky of riffy bliss.

About midway through the ten-song set, however, Elmore touches down with quieter, spottier material. While "March" is strummy and elegant, the cerebral "The Lasting Effects" feels like a natural tunesmith introspecting herself into a dry corner. By her next album, Elmore may have learned to squeeze the juice from a spare setting as consistently as she does from big-guitar candy. As it is, she's well on her way to grasping the power-pop brass ring: criminal neglect by all but a discerning few. For the sake of her music, let's just hope she doesn't pay much attention to the ghosts of career trajectories past.

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