Cartel, 'Chroma' (The Militia Group)

Chroma
Critical Mass
Label: Sony

by Erica Futterman

Like many young bands on their first full-length release, Cartel is concerned with the ever-pressing problems of relationships, being misunderstood, and trying to figure out where they belong. In Cartel's case, this tried and true formula is done in a catchy, simplistic manner.

Chroma, which the band defines as "chromatic purity: freedom from dilution with white and hence vividness of hue" in the insert, is seen in varying degrees all over the album. It's most clear in the abstract color forms that make up the album's artwork, but the band can't escape some dilution when it comes to Chroma's 12 tracks. Singer Will Pugh's smooth vocals and the album's slick production and melodies make Chroma extremely easy on the ears, but most of the tracks could be easily confused with each other -- particularly when they get stuck in your head.

Cartel (also including Nic Hudson and Joseph Pepper on guitar, Kevin Sanders on drums, and Ryan Roberts on bass) remains safely tucked in the pop-rock genre. The mostly up-tempo tracks are filled with resonating guitar riffs (opening track "Say Anything (Else)") and forceful drumbeats (especially catchy on "Settle Down"), and the album's two surprisingly successful ballads -- "Save Us" and "The Minstrel's Prayer" -- show Cartel's slower side. "When what you want is what you're getting," sings Pugh on the album's final track, "they're catching on to us." That's always the plan, isn't it?

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