The Format was started in 2002 in Peoria, AZ, when two friends, singer Nate Ruess, and multi-talented instrumentalist Sam Means began writing songs together. Later that year, they released their first EP and, sure enough, they scored themselves a deal for a full-length follow-up to be released on Elektra Records.

Their 2003 effort, “Interventions and Lullabies,” is filled with bouncy, light and heartfelt pop-rock tracks that are both easy on the ear and remarkably catchy. In fact, the track “Let’s Make This Moment a Crime” was featured on an episode of MTV’s Laguna Beach.

Despite these 15 minutes of fame, the Format has remained out of the musical spotlight and were dropped by Elektra records when the label didn’t like the direction the band was taking their songwriting. Their newly released sophomore album, “Dog Problems,” maintains their ebullience and sparkling instrumentation that defined “Interventions” and still manages to sound very loosely and effortlessly played, yet perfectly tight when it needs to.

Nate Ruess’s overwhelmingly friendly and intimate voice is still as present as ever and, on this album, the mix seems to be a bit more vocal-heavy, which is absolutely a good thing. Ruess also pushes his voice harder this time around and brings himself higher in his vocal range than he previously has. He does this without breaking into a falsetto a-la Coldplay’s Chris Martin, which brings a certain intensity and urgency to the songs.

The album’s lyrics are reflections on Ruess’s recent breakup, which gives several songs a very melancholy flavor, but it doesn’t stop the music from being fun and upbeat overall.

It is abundantly clear that the same blend of acoustic and electric guitar riffs, pleasant percussion and honest vocals are still the main ingredients in the Format’s songwriting style.

A few aspects of the band’s sound have evolved and changed on “Dog Problems.” The third track, “Time Bomb,” opens up with a wall of harmonizing background vocals that is very reminiscent of the opening of Queen’s “Fat Bottomed Girls.” Throughout the album there are several other moments of large-sounding orchestration that were absent from the Format’s previous release.

Another theme that emerges on the first two songs of the album is a kind of eerie, waltzing style that sounds something like a haunted carnival. The songs are set in three-four time and the harmonized background vocals sound like a carousel organ. This gives the music a strange tinge at first, but when Ruess’s voice crashes through to begin a chorus, you remember that you are indeed listening to the same indie-sounding pop-rock that you were hoping for.

The instrumentation this time around is a bit more varied and advanced, the songs are more keyboard-heavy than they were on “Interventions” and little additions like ringing bells and light synthesizer tracks are excellent touches that are never overdone.

Fans of the Format should know that the sound in general hasn’t changed much. Ruess’s knack for a great vocal melody and Means’s uncanny ability to write friendly-sounding music that is immediately appealing are still the main forces at work here.

The Format maintains a great sound that is a bit more intimate and informal than the Fray, a bit rawer-sounding than Guster and overall is extremely accessible to any ear.



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