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The Party of Helicopters 

Space . . . And How Sweet It Was (Troubleman Unlimited)

The Party of Helicopters sound like a band that wanted to be Iron Maiden before realizing that would mean having to write songs about ancient mariners and shit. And so they've tossed aside all the cartoonishness of their metal heroes and substituted the introspection and emotional volatility of emo's forebears. The outcome is a blend of power and vulnerability that establishes Space, a two-disc collection of new and old material, as one of the most compelling releases from these parts in some time.

Somehow both meditative and jarring, the Helicopters' hard-charging sound is as unsettling as life along a fault line: Everything could be ripped open and come crashing down at any moment. Singer Joe Dennis swaps a stoned, Morrisonesque howl for a blood-curdling bawl within a single verse. Passive-aggressive guitarist Jamie Stillman goes from the Promise Ring to Prong in the blink of an eye. The only steady hand seems to belong to bassist Ryan Brannon, whose acrobatic playing is consistently overdriven.

No track better encapsulates all this breadth than "The Conquering," a mesmeric 10-minute drone on which Dennis lays narcotic vocals over oceans of foamy guitars that later evaporate in a haze of lysergic synth. It all crashes abruptly into the cold sweat of the nervous, suffocating "+8 Sack of Fear." Another breathless crescendo follows in "The Tundra" -- which, with its paranoiac vocals and dizzying guitar, is truly the sound of schizophrenia. Then, finally, they stop. As does your heart.

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