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MISS ALANS (Buy CDs by this artist)
Smack the Horse (Genius/Rough Trade) 1990
All Hail Discordia (Duck Butter Music) 1991
Blusher (Zoo) 1994
Big Sun EP10 (Mach) 1995
Ledger (World Domination) 1996

The Miss Alans formed at Fresno State University, majoring in dreamy pop with minors in R.E.M. jangle and lightweight psychedelia. Smack the Horse is a more apt representation of the band's technique than All Hail Discordia, which was recorded and mixed live to 2-track in a club and has a rushed, uneven quality to both the performances and production. Both albums highlight Miss Alans' strengths, though: rhythm guitarist Scott Oliver's wavery, hickoid vocals, Manny Diez's piercing guitar leads, delicately crafted pop tunes and a subtle fascination with music's cosmic edges. Plus, All Hail Discordia has the group turning Ted Nugent's macho-rock "Great White Buffalo" into a trippy power pop stream with gnawing slide guitar and a gullible vocal.

Blusher is a major improvement, a calm clarification and expansion of the quartet's sound — credit maturity, experience, adequate studio time and producer Tracy Chisholm, who's worked with Belly. Oliver's singing is far stronger and more assured, able to focus a simple electric pop song like "Mag Wheel" or the acoustic "Blurry Doll" to fine effect. But the gentle thrust of the album is in its blissed-out soft guitar washes — think British shoegazers like Spiritualized in a quiet phase — which provide laconic accompaniment to the tear-stained, often bitter but sometimes sanguine lyrics. Appealing and atmospheric numbers like "State of Grace," the low-key "Supercharged" and "Winona" paint Miss Alans in pretty pastels with an emotional undertow; "Patti Smith Fan Club" and "The Sad Last Days of Elvis Aron Presley" adjoin celebrities to broader topics with poetic intelligence.

After parting ways with Zoo, the Miss Alans made a four-song 10-inch for an independent label and then signed with World Domination, which released Ledger the following summer.

[Vickie Gilmer]