Crisis or Catharsis (MySpace.com/Quickening)

Ten years after quietly cracking the scene's list of perennial contenders, Quickening comes off like a top-shelf alt-rock band that should have scored a major-label record deal back in '98. Crisis or Catharsis — the Cleveland trio's long-overdue fourth record — sounds like a lost Better Than Ezra album, as singer-guitarist James Isom adds layers of modern noise to backdrops of ambient sampler effects. The six-minute "Island" ends in a gorgeous sun-shower of glowing keyboards, collapsing drumrolls, and evaporating guitar notes. Then the group unplugs in "Hurt So Bad," which features ghostly slide guitar from bluesman Patrick Sweany. Everything's in place for what's hoped to be a higher-profile second decade.

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