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With a name apparently designed - well, it worked on me at least - to put you in mind of sun-kissed, Beach Boys-style jangle-pop jams, I found myself pleasantly surprised with California X's self-titled debut a couple of years back. Dominated by freewheeling guitars that owed more than a little to J Mascis, it still felt like affirmation that you don't necessarily have to reinvent your influences if you're going to wear them on your sleeve; often, it's enough merely to reinvigorate them, and the Massachusetts four-piece brought enough fizz to that irrepressible full-length to ensure that those inevitable Dinosaur Jr. comparisons were well-intentioned enough that the band could feel comfortable wearing them as badges of honour.

Of course, the drawing of those parallels was also due in no small part to the fact that the man who took care of production duties on California X - Justin Pizzoferrato - had also taken care of some recent Jr. records, including their latest, the searing return to form that was I Bet on Sky. Accordingly, the retention of his services for this sophomore LP would, you'd assume, mean more songs in the key of J, but instead, Nights in the Dark has California X moving into altogether more brooding territory. If their first record was an ode to carefree grunge stylings, this album investigates the murkier side of the genre; the title track, in opening proceedings, also partially sets the tone. The guitars are chunkier, more substantial, but the hints at anthemic aspiration haven't entirely dissipated, as the chorus attests.

'Red Planet' is in much the same vein - it's aggressive, raw garage rock, but not without a pop sensibility - and, alongside 'Nights in the Dark', it represents a misleading one-two punch with which to begin the album. Much of the rest of the record is in thrall to Meat Puppets; the uninspiring slow burn of 'Hadley, MA' is a case in point, as is the puzzling songwriting decision, during the record's second half, to include a couple of two-parters that really don't come off as anything other than overlong. 'Blackrazor' picks up the pace during its latter section, but part one has likely already pummeled the listener into submission by that point with its tuneless guitar noodling, and whilst 'Summer Wall' opens with genuine promise - a Kyuss-referencing, simmering riff eases us in - it ultimately meanders, heading off in no particular direction.

In retrospect, then, comparing California X to Nights in the Dark actually demonstrates just what it was that the band did so well last time around; they maintained a sense of momentum that is largely missing from this varied, but ultimately misguided follow-up. There's no doubting their technical ability, but it counts for little this time around; the hooks that seemed to be the cornerstone of their songwriting last time out are missing in action on this occasion.

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