a bit angry but not absurd

Puzzle (IRS)

By Allen Howie

"Dada" is French for "hobbyhorse." It was supposedly selected at random from the dictionary by the founders of dadaism, a philosophy based on a belief that man is essentially good until corrupted by society. Dadaists turned their backs on then-current aesthetic and social values, usually through works of art that were deliberately incomprehensible.

What's puzzling is why a band this focused and mainstream-sounding (in the best possible way) would call themselves dada. In spite of album art that features a troll doll in a vise, a Jell-O ring being chain-sawed in half, a skull surrounded by brightly-colored candy (you get the picture), the band's edginess is tempered by a sure-footed pop sensibility thatÕs never far from the surface.

The album begins with "Dorina," shifting back and forth from spare and haunting to fast and furious, with guitarist Michael Gurley bludgeoning a nicely-turned lead into barely-controlled chaos. The pretty Everly Brothers/Beatles pop of "Mary Sunshine Rain," with echoes of Cream rattling around in the background, gives way to the sunny harmonies of "Dog," whose lyrics make room for just about everybodyÕs ideas about this world and the next.

So it goes, from the surging "Dizz Knee Land," a well-aimed volley at those inane post-Superbowl Disney World commercials, to the B-52s-sing-Lou-Reed swirl of "Here Today, Gone Tomorrow." "Timothy" takes a sadly beautiful trip through a child's imagination, while the introspective title track drowses dreamily in the verses until roused by a resolute buzz in the chorus.

All told, dada runs through eleven tunes, from the melodic funk of "Who You Are" and the weird tale of seduction spun in "Posters" to the bare-bones desolation of "Moon" and the fatalistic fireworks that ignite "Dim." Only "Surround" seems to spin its wheels without going much of anywhere (although the piano coda hints that the song could have been something more).

Much as they'd like to appear nihilistic, the guys in dada (Gurley, Joie Calio and Phil Leavitt) are going to have to live with the fact that Puzzle is put together a little too well to stir up anything but enjoyment.