Evan Dando and Juliana Hatfield always seemed so toxic to each other. How many great, sweet rock songs could have been made if their '90s alt-rock romance hadn't proved to be so volatile? The answer to that what-if party game comes in the overdue collaboration between this contemporary alt-rock couple, Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and singer-songwriter Jonathan Rice. The two have been working together occasionally for nearly six years -- they pitched in on each other's solo debuts, they toured together, they both contributed to Elvis Costello's "Momofuku" -- but this year they finally sat down in the studio and quickly knocked out 11 songs to call their own.
"I'm Having Fun Now" is a good title for it, advertising the cheer and apparent relief infusing each of these tunes. "Scissor Runner" holds everything that can be great about jangly pop in its pale, little hands -- a perfect marriage of this unmarried couple's skills and talent, with Rice's steady guitar and Lewis' cooing voice. Rice pulls his punches a bit; his "Switchblade" is dull, but his "Animal" has teeth, an almost spiritual protest song lamenting lycanthropy in the verse and then celebrating it in the chorus. "Straight Edge of the Blade" and "Big Wave" showcase Lewis' cool voice (with a great vocal riff in the latter) and evoke the same simple, romantic charm we also enjoyed this summer from Best Coast. It's an indie-rock "Buckingham Nicks."