Rob Cherry's guitar sounds like it's been in the gym the last three years, gobbling creatine and adding layers of muscle to its once-lean frame. In the past, the Achilles' heel of the Ether Net frontman has been his tendency to take too many cues from fey Brit pantywaists like Suede and Placebo. At times, it's limited the vigor of his band -- one of the most refined, underrated acts in Cleveland.
But on Ether Net's third record, Cherry does his best job yet of balancing the drama and affectation of prime Brit glam pop with guitars every bit as bawdy and severe as his mentors' mascara.
The tone is set from the get-go with "Disco Crush," one of Ether Net's most fiery, immediate cuts, with spasmodic drumming, coiled bass, and slavering, arena rock guitars. Though "Chicago" begins with a Smashing Pumpkins-like shimmer -- appropriately enough, considering its title -- when the chorus hits, it sounds like a 747 at takeoff, all afterburner guitars draped in propulsive synth.
Almost as jarring as Cherry's guitar playing is Brent Gemmill's drumming. On "The Exit Song," his tireless pounding sends the song into overdrive, making it the soundtrack to a speeding ticket. Ditto for "Shine You Down," a temperamental slow burn anchored by Gemmill's heavy-handed playing.
None of this is to suggest that Bruises is all bared teeth and bloody knuckles -- "Medical Waste" is a meditative, mostly acoustic gem; "Ghost" a moody, midpaced workout -- but clearly this band has beefed up its sound, wielding biceps as big as its heart.