The title of Hockey Night's 2002 disc Rad Zapping rhymes with "bad rapping," but "bad" doesn't begin to describe the group's pseudo-flow. The album's blipped-out beats prompted spastic dancing and its guitars spiraled toward virtuosity, but the nasally nerd-hop left a poor lasting impression. Saying that the album was solid other than the cutesy rhyme segments is sort of like saying that a swim meet went well except for the competitor who hit her head on the diving board and died.
Keep Guessin', the recently released follow-up from this Minnesota-based quartet (two guitarists, two drummers), erases all hints of a stiffly rhythmic vocal cadence and eliminates synth-pop backdrops. Mastermind Paul Sprangers concentrates his creative energies on two genres: slacker-style indierock and sprawling '70s prog. Essentially, he merges Stephen Malkmus' past and present.
"Get Real," the opening track, sounds so much like Pavement that wet cement oozes through the composition's cracks. Dual guitars tangle until they're densely knotted, and Sprangers' sarcastic voice lingers between lines.
After three slanted, enchanting nuggets, Hockey Night release their arena-rock kraken. Mystical melodies yield to rolling drums and wah-wah guitars. Ringing riffs break into a power-ballad slow dance in the middle of a low-key lament. The record's longest song is five minutes, but it feels as though it encompasses an entire evening. When a trumpet starts blaring toward the end, it mirrors that lampshade-as-headgear moment when the party truly gets out of control. Concertgoers, let the horn blow--but if Sprangers starts rapping, commandeer the microphone, with a cross check if necessary.