Land Dispute is the fourth full-length album by Pittsburgh-based trio ThouShaltNot since the group's late-'90s inception, in Cleveland. With origins in a city known for electro-goth, new wave, synth-pop, dark-wave, and industrial music, it makes sense that the band's music falls across ... if not within ... those scene-specific sub-genres.
The first things you notice on Land Dispute are the hyper-abundance of detail and ornamentation, the excess of lush differentiation. Complex programmed club beats mix with syncopated synths, trembling guitars and vocal harmonies in a swirling 3D stereo image ... great headphone music.
No stretch that the group's classical training is at the core: songwriter Alex Reed originally relocated to Pittsburgh to study music theory and composition in Pitt's Ph.D. program. What saves Land Dispute from veering into nerd-land are the straightforward, consistent beats and Jeremy Long's direct, unprocessed vocals, both of which resist the cutesy contrivances that would engulf lesser bands with similar technical backgrounds.
The songs themselves are quite varied. On "React," the vocal phrasing has an emo flavor on lines including, "I'll be a gear between your teeth; when you're spinning, I react." The piano ballad "All That's Left" contains touches of Hunky Dory-era Bowie (or is that Dresden Dolls?), while "Like Apple Trees" channels a dewy optimism with climbing string arrangements and guitar lines.
Doubtless, avid listeners to any of the sub-genres straddled by ThouShaltNot could offer micro-specific comparisons to other groups, as the reviews on the band's Web site demonstrate. But those are perhaps at the expense of the ThouShaltNot's main achievement: crafting a wholly listenable amalgam of these sources that appeals to both specialists and general listeners alike.