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Record Review - 2 August 01 2001

Is there a Garden State renaissance, or are more bands simply admitting to being from New Jersey? Aside from Springsteen and, in some circles, Bon Jovi, the outskirts of Newark and the Jersey shore have never been hotbeds for artistic expression, especially tasteful artistic expression.

Now enter Ours, fronted by Jimmy Gnecco (pronounced "Neck-o," how's that for a Jersey surname?), and suddenly the state's whole reputation is turned around. Not a review has been written on the band's second album, Distorted Lullabies, without mentioning Jeff Buckley, but the similarities between Gnecco's trembling falsetto and Buckley's angelic soprano are absolutely haunting. Ours' current single, "Sometimes," might be the kind of radio-friendly tune Buckley would create if he hadn't wandered fatefully into the Mississippi a few years back.

Ours does have its own sound, however, and it's darker, if not as seductive, as Buckley's. "Drowning" reflects Gnecco's late-'80s upbringing, echoing the steely riffs of the hair-metal bands he worshipped as a teen. "Miseryhead" is akin to the fine work of underrated Alabama boys Remy Zero. The most impressive thing about Ours isn't the band's ability to attack — anyone can be loud — but its instinct to retreat into emotional reveries ("Here is the Light") without looking back.

Another slice of Jersey comes in the form of Pete Yorn, whose Musicforthe- morningafter is lighter than Ours, though no less complex. A Syracuse grad who got his start singing Replacements songs in his high school talent show, Yorn is the type of songwriter who gets off concocting the perfect blend of wry, intelligent lyrics and melodic, sugar-free pop hooks.

Yorn's voice is less the centerpiece of his music than its vehicle; he delivers breathy Stipe-influenced balladry ("Just Another") and Westerberg-ian bar rock ("Sleep Better") with equal aplomb. Long after each song has played, it's the nagging chorus, not Yorn's careful inflection, that remains behind.

Pete Yorn and Ours play Smith's Olde Bar Tues. and Wed. Aug. 7-8.??