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Like the Jason Loewenstein axis of Sebadoh boiled down, scrubbed smooth and laid out over a punchy extended player, Baltimore's Expert Alterations find themselves religiously stripping bare any kind of extraneous adornment on their new EP.

A less showy version of label mates Crystal Stilts, Expert Alterations take on the fiendishly difficult task of maintaining interest purely through simplistic, paint-by-numbers pop rock, cocking a snoot at anything approaching sonic invention or humour. Arrangements are sparse, the simplest of melodies topped with monotone, tonally skewed vocals and lyrics sat just low enough to be indiscernible. If you're going to pull off this kind of de-cluttered garage, you need to have an engaging turn of phrase, Dinosaur JR-esque coolness or, at worst, everything turned up ridiculously loud. Expert Alterations have a limited supply of each.

Firstly, the upside. 'Three Signs' finds drone-y beauty in the simplicity of its production and its greyscale melody. Where pop music meets its brief - where it succeeds on its own terms - there is really not a great deal that can be criticised. It may not be ambitious, but it fulfils its objectives. Expert Alterations is confused where it should be knife sharp. The fact that the storytelling is kept muffled by the ruggedly double-tracked mumble affected is frustrating. Where couplets occasionally pop out they have a nicely topsy-turvy phrasing.

The downside is, unfortunately, more weighty. Suffice to say, there is very little to get excited about in simplistic, three-legged pop rock which consciously holds back from breaking out into anything faster than a casual jog. 'A Bell' is plodding, at its most urgent when it breaks down to a raw drum interlude. 'Midnight Garden' is similarly thin, turning on a poppy marching snare riff which isn't particularly tight or striking.

Guided By Voices is clearly a touchstone, but the anarchic, drunken delight that they have consistently conjured requires an amount of spontaneity and mischief that is not on display from Expert Alterations. Where Guided By Voices would have no qualms in throwing in a 'Salty Salute' every now and then, to vivify the more staid moments, Expert Alterations remain tied to a formulaic brand of serious which doesn't allow for much messiness. Great indie should be full of fortunate mistakes. This EP is in need of significant amendment.

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