by Mike Corrigan

From the opening guitar signature of the album's first cut, "Surround," you get the feeling that this self-titled debut from American Hi-Fi is gonna be a big, sweet, high-energy nugget of ear candy -- one that, although initially gratifying, tends to lose its appeal almost as soon as the wrapper comes off.

Just goes to show you how wrong initial impressions can be. For all its time-tested components, American Hi-Fi is amazingly durable and sounds remarkably fresh -- even pleasantly out of place -- in the current alternative rock wasteland.

The band wears its alt-pop pedigree on its collective sleeve, stylistically and otherwise. Vocalist Stacy Jones used to violate the drums for Letters to Cleo and Veruca Salt before forming American Hi-Fi with guitarist Jamie Arentzen, bassist Drew Parsons and drummer Brian Nolan.

Crackling with crisp, dynamic arrangements and youthful spunk, these 13 cuts are characterized by grand, upbeat aural statements and hooks that go down like velvety smooth premium ice cream. The usual slacker boy rock sentiments are well represented here but are conveyed with unusual verve and smarts. The band invokes numerous pop culture references along the way, occasionally allowing deeper influences to emerge (as with the not-so-subtle nod to the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil" on the backing vocal of "Blue Day"). Though the writing frequently flirts with the banal (as on the dopey, un-ambitious "I'm a Fool"), it manages to land several direct hits as well (check out "Safer on the Outside" and the meaty "Scar").

American Hi-Fi is nothing less than what fun '70s AM radio fodder should have -- in a perfect, less corrupt world -- mutated into. Turn it up.

American Original: The Life and Work of John James Audubon @ Northwest Museum of Arts & Culture

Tuesdays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Continues through Sept. 19
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