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Album review: The Belle Brigade's self-titled debut

April 19, 2011 |  7:33 am

MOD-28456_bbcover In “Belt of Orion,” a tune from this local sibling duo’s self-titled debut, Ethan Gruska voices a familiar complaint about his hometown: “It ain’t pretty, the heart of this city / Where everyone’s just trying to impress.” Gruska knows of what he sings. He and his sister Barbara come from a long line of L.A. musicians (most notably Oscar-gobbling film-score composer John Williams). And Barbara’s drummed with plenty of L.A. indie stars, including Rilo Kiley frontwoman Jenny Lewis and Inara George of the Bird and the Bee.

But don’t assume that the Belle Brigade are hometown haters. On this sparkling 11-song set, the band digs through half a century of SoCal pop and finds all kinds of not-so-buried treasure. Winsome Beach Boys melodies, scruffy Tom Petty guitars, laser-guided Eagles harmonies, classic Reprise production sound — they’re all here in shades far more vivid than crate-digging throwback types typically muster.

Beyond their hereditary knack for airtight arrangements, the Gruskas get their energy from a youthful emotion that reminds you that they’re not as old as their referents. In “Where Not to Look for Freedom,” they pump rock-radio fist as they describe the allure of the road, while “Losers” rejoices in the determination not to get wrapped up in the rat race Ethan bemoans in “Belt of Orion.” The Belle Brigade’s music is the sound of a record nerd’s dream come to messy, muscular life.

-- Mikael Wood

“The Belle Brigade”
The Belle Brigade
Three-and-a-half stars (out of four)