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Coathangers mature in all the right places

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The Coathangers have come a long way since releasing a self-titled debut in September 2007. Scramble, the sophomore album from Atlanta's premier lady punk quartet (their first was released on Rob's House) is full of the noisy, yappy, sometimes endearing, and sometimes squelching chatter that has made them such a divisive act. But there's an air of confidence driving the sharper writing and visceral deliveries on such songs as "Toomerhead" and "Arthritus Sux."

The slower tempo heard on the album's stand-out cut, "Stop, Stomp, Stompin,'" and the piano and noise-laced chant of "Sonic You" channel the tension of the group's chaotic beginnings into a more refined sound. Drummer Stephanie Luke's gut-wrenching lyrical barks hit with an unexpected strength over bass, drum and guitar interplay that shows off some of the skills the group has acquired on the road. If they didn't know how to play their instruments when they approached the first record, they certainly learned a thing or two along the way. These songs are a different beast altogether.

To say that the group has matured between records undersells the dark, jittery energy of Scramble. But place its fist-pumping, juvenile anthems of the past ("Nestle in My Boobies," "Shut the Fuck Up") next to "Time Passing," "Burry Me" or "Cheap Cheap" and marked growth is apparent. Muddy production qualities tastefully restrain the ear-piercing screams with the perfect balance of something akin to Phil Spector's wall of noise. This is, after all, a girl group; and the formula adds a lot to the Coathangers' presence.

"Dreamboat" is the weak link, and "Getting Mad and Pumpin' Iron" would have made a good B-side throw away. But they make an undeniable step up the evolutionary ladder with Scramble. The songs are better, and the unbridled depth of female expression is refreshing in its rugged and ramshackle pop lurches and lilts.

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