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Record Review

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U.S. Maple's fifth outing carries a distinct and unexpected orderliness its predecessors don't possess. But the slow tension and unnatural pace that drive Purple on Time make it the most nervous album the group has pieced together since the tumbling chaos of 1995's Long Hair in Three Stages and 1997's Sang Phat, Editor.

"My Lil' Shocker" kicks things off with a misleading Jesus Lizard-esque riff that points toward a straightforward rock sound. But when Al Johnson's raspy, mutant voice sinks in, the tone changes drastically. Like an exploded view of standard rock song construction, every jittery element of the music -- guitar, bass, drums and vocals -- has its inner-workings exposed. When putting it all back together, nothing fits the way it's supposed to.

The exhausting "Oh Below" and "Dumb in the Wings" trudge along like a record playing at the wrong speed. Likewise, "Whoopee Invader" moves like an underwater marathon, a vague sense of balance holding it together. Next comes a deformed cover of Bob Dylan's "Lay Lady Lay," the sickly pace at which it unfolds giving a false sense that normality is rearing its ugly head.

Johnson's slurred voice constricts and contorts with a drunken abandon that dwells on the fringes of sleep and conscious thought. Making sense of such off-kilter songwriting is not a task for the sound of mind.

U.S. Maple plays The Earl on Fri., Dec. 12. $7.

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