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Thursday, August 28, 2014 |  Madison, WI: 57.0° F  Fog/Mist
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8889's brisk, at times introspective pop-rock recalls several '80s acts that embraced ringing, slightly reedy guitars and trebly production that highlighted all that purposeful strumming. In fact, if you crossed guitar-savvy neo-psychedelians the Church with Hall & Oates and added a touch of earnest folk-rock, you'd come up with something very similar to what 8889 are doing on Zoology.

Out of the dozen tracks, only "All We Are" and "Numbers of Me" are really forceful enough to escape the politesse of mainstream pop fare. Both feature two of lead vocalist Ross Benbow's stronger performances, and the latter track really benefits from an oddly accented beat and moody bass line that suggest the onrushing bottom end of the Church's quarter-century-old "Under the Milky Way."

To be honest, it's hard to tell exactly what audience the local quintet is aiming for here. At points, lead guitarist Casey Collins seems game for something far more expansive than polite pop-rock, but Benbow's preference for a light, romantic vocal style cuts against his bandmate's attempts to move into U2 and Coldplay territory.

This isn't a poorly executed disc, by any means. Should he want it, Benbow could probably carve out a respectable career as a rock-friendly crooner. But after a few cuts, you can't help wondering if a well-placed growl here or some throaty bellowing there might take the proceedings to much higher ground.

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