Mood Rings' debut album cover art is worthy of an exhibit. Surreal and playfully evocative, it's like something Rene Magritte would have painted after inhaling a plate of pot brownies. And that image -- a mysterious door opening into the clouds, releasing a tidal-wave into a disheveled bedroom -- couldn't have been paired with a more appropriate batch of songs.

'VPI Harmony' is the very definition of a "headphones album." It's a towering monolith of dream-pop sex and psychedelic mystery -- slithering like a snake, drifting like an aimless cloud. These aren't songs so much as colors. Guitars and synths are totally engulfed in reverb, individual melodies blurring together in trance-like breezes. (Is the singer a man or a woman? Is that a saxophone withering into the swirl on opener 'Dark Flow?') Take the New Wave slow-dance of 'The Line' or the mind-melting laser-show atmospherics of 'Perusha' -- this is some seriously trippy, three-dimensional s---.

It's also exhausting. The capital-r Reverb is often majestic in its own rite (few rock bands of this generation chase the R-dragon with such well-engineered heft), but it has a tendency of dwarfing the music's clever twists and turns -- like how 'Promise Me Eternity' suddenly drifts from jangle-pop to a girl-group daydream suited for a 'Twin Peaks' roadhouse. The saving grace is the rhythm section, whose muscle and propulsion keep the songs from drifting too far out into orbit.

Mood Rings do the whole "reverb-worshipping guitar-pop" thing better than most. But the best moments on 'VPI Harmony' suggest they're capable of way, way more.

7 out of 10 rating

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