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The Format, Dog Problems

This Arizona based duo of Sam Means (piano/keys/guitar) and Nate Ruess (vocals, synth) materialized around their love for 60’s pop music. Their 2003 debut, Interventions and Lullabies, scored a minor hit with their memorable and creatively titled single, “First Single.” Since then the Format have ditched their major label (Atlantic) and have been running their own record company, The Vanity Label.

On their sophomore release, Dog Problems, The Format sound like the bastard child of Queen’s floating harmonies, Ben Folds’ catchy piano-pop, Badly Drawn Boy’s ambition and Tom Waits’ eccentricities. Dear reader, this is a very good thing.

While many fans of music focus on the “hit” singles, The Format have put together quite a unique album where each track easily holds up on it’s own. However, when the tracks are put together, they tell the story of Ruess’ failed relationship. Despite the gloomy theme, The Format somehow mange to keep the music sounding bright, and cheery—but still Ruess’ pain is clear, especially on the title track where in mid-stride of a fun carnival waltz he pleads with the listener, “Can you hear me? Are you listening? This is the sound / Of my heart breaking / And I hope it’s entertaining / ‘Cause for me it’s a bitch.” Well, yes, it is quite entertaining— particularly when every track is a pop gem full of horns, dancing harmonies, strings, and as The Format put it, “fun instruments we had lying around.”

Further highlights include first single “Time Bomb” (sample chorus: “Tick-tock you’re not a clock / You’re a time bomb baby / A time bomb baby”), the guitar heavy “Oceans” and the countrified “Snails.” The Format are one of those bands to keep an eye on because they clearly have an idea of what a smart, creative, yet still fun pop record is about. (The Vanity Label/Nettwerk)

Rating: 4 Out Of 5 Stars

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