Grace Potter & the Nocturnals' self-titled 2010 album raised the band's profile. It traded heavily on their concert strengths, and while not perfect, it more or less shored up their reputation with fans and spread their rep globally.The Lion the Beast the Beatis a creative leap. With the band having enlisted producer Jim Scott, most tracks were cut live from the floor of his studio with strings, effects, and backing vocals added later. The sound here is big, sometimes bombastic, but never slick; it's wildly varied, too. Collectively, the songs have a very loose thematic link about the gray areas between perception and reality, looking at everything from relationships to time's passage. The title track contains the band's signature big guitars and drums roaring above an organ and strings. It nods -- without winking -- atthe Go-Go's' "We Got the Beat."Dan Auerbachco-wrote and co-produced "Never Go Back," the album's first single. It's a tricky, quirky number with an off-kilter funk riff à la mid-periodTalking Heads. Its chorus is infectious andPotter's singing, alternately seductive and authoritative, grabs the listener by the throat. The ballad "Stars" looks directly toward country radio with its pedal steel and lilting hook. That said, it's warmer and more natural-sounding.AuerbachandPotteralso co-wrote theDoors-influenced "Loneliest Soul," an uptempo groover with pulsing organ, slinky Rhodes, and a popping bassline that pushes it above imitation. The psych-tinged "Timekeeper" is an unlikely pop song, but its distinctly retro feel and Potter's exquisite vocal -- which is far more disciplined than on any previous recording -- are irresistible. "Runaway" is punchy, nasty, funky rock & roll -- one keeps expecting horns, but they never appear. Co-produced byAuerbachandScott, it contains the former's feel for live distortion and the latter's layered ambience and dynamics, and combines them to great effect. The guitar break is smoking; it pushesPotter to her limit in response. The closer, "The Divide," is the set's best track. It's a slow-building, apocalyptic rocker, whose three guitars create menace and drama. They are balanced by a careening organ and a large string section, arranged to carry the proceedings from the abyss to transcendence. WhilePotter's melodies and hooks are solid onThe Lion the Beast the Beat, some of her lyric choices are still a bit clunky. However, she andthe Nocturnalscompensate with passion, execution, and smart production choices and arrangements. With its exponential musical growth, this might indeed be the record that moves the band from the merely recognizable into the pop mainstream.
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