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I Hear Sparks: Mean Creek – The Sky (or the Underground)

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Boston’s Mean Creek sits right in the middle of that meaty Boston music curve, settling somewhere in the territory inhabited by the likes of Buffalo Tom and Throwing Muses. Playing a brand of tender, accessible folk meshed with chunky, guitar-kissed rock, the quartet has shared stages with acts like Black Lips, Mew, Margot & the Nuclear So & So’s, and Black Confederate.

With their second album, the aptly-titled The Sky (or the Underground), Mean Creek gleefully explores the emotional boundaries of rock, folk and fuzzy alternative while binding together as one consistent, unique unit. Led by singers/guitarists Chris Keene and Aurore Ounjian—who originally began as a folk duo—and rounded out by ex-Tulsa members Mikey Holland and Erik Wormwood, these Bostonians are the perfect amalgamation of diverse musical tastes and talents.

Mean Creek makes great use out of dazzling male/female harmonies. Keene and Ounjian are intoxicating in their approach to each track, beautifully placing notes right where they belong and never fearing the riskier stuff.

That riskier stuff is all over The Sky (or the Underground), creating an album of consequential, immense lyricism and moving, expressive musical arrangements. The path explored by Mean Creek is not an easy one, but it is damn sure rewarding in the end and, luckily enough, the musical backdrop is simply stunning in its magnificence and reach.

Starting the record off, the title track introduces Keene as a vocalist with impeccable elocution and poise. The way he rounds off words and adds sparkle to the little segments while Ounjian fleshes out the environment with spacious, ethereal quality is amazing.

The dazzling “Light Into Dark” is a great example of how Mean Creek rocks the harmonies and the driving guitar sound to their full advantage. Its sparse, twinkling edges collide elegantly with a chunky lower end, creating a sound that is half '90s grunge and half modern space rock. Add Ounjian and Keene’s delectable harmonies to the mix and “Light Into Dark” is a spectacular piece of work.

Other songs stretch the band’s sound out further, covering soft, personal folk (“Strange Man”) and charging roots rock (“The Patient”) without missing a beat.

Mean Creek is stacking up the accolades and attention and, with the release of The Sky (or the Underground), it’s apparent as to why. This is a band on the rise, creating fresh sounds that combine genres while forging ahead confident in their musical sense of adventure.

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