To be honest, the very notion of a band that Spin has called "America's answer to Belle & Sebastian" and that cites Air Supply and Supertramp as its benchmarks is enough to make me reach for my M-16. Indie pop's marshmallow phase has already lasted far too long for my taste, and Wheat is in no danger of waking the dead with its polite four-chord guitar jangle. But Hope and Adams (Sugar Free), the second full-length by this Massachusetts group, is so loaded with weird sonic detail that I can forgive its easygoing tone. There's nothing particularly memorable about the chiming R.E.M. riff or languid vocal of "Slow Fade," but you may have a harder time forgetting the mist of "ahs" that hangs in the background or the harmonics of its warmly distorted guitar coda. The conclusion of "Raised Ranch Revolution" sounds like it was lifted off a Pavement record, but gradually it fades out, leaving behind a forest of vocals framed by guitar and bells; eventually that too gives way, and the tune ends with a hushed instrumental reprise streaked with dreamy piano and white noise that suggests a screaming teakettle. "San Diego" could pass for a Jackson Browne song, except that it gradually collects an unruly entourage of electronic blips, nasty synth notes, and rolling, discordant organ. And though "More Than You'll Ever Know" has the usual wandering, disconsolate vocals, the recording is completely over-the-top, with crashing, overdriven percussion pushing through a shroud of distortion. The album was engineered, mixed, and coproduced by Dave Fridmann, whose credits include the Flaming Lips' The Soft Bulletin and Mercury Rev's Deserter's Songs, and it shares with those records an aural inventiveness and meticulous attention to texture that by the end seem as vital as the songs themselves. I haven't seen Wheat play--this is their first full-fledged tour of the U.S.--but in a live performance, adrenaline ought to compensate for the lack of studio smoke and mirrors. Tuesday, 9 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508. J.R. JONES
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Cheryl Richards.