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Writing music that is equally catchy and technical is a hard bridge to cross and it is rare to find a band that rides that balance as fluently as Sacramento trio Tera Melos do on their fourth official album. Tera Melos continue to showcase their expert playing, but for the first time, they let melodies lead the way. Drugs to the Dear Youth was relentless, but this smart new "attack when necessary" approach gives a wider range of dynamics, and opens up a song like "No Phase" so that the sweet, ambient vocals of guest singer/keyboardist Aurielle Zeitler can shine through without the interference of killer guitar scales and drum fills. Elsewhere, the tightly wound musicianship of guitarist/vocalist Nick Reinhart, bassist Nathan Latona, and new drummer John Clardy is dazzling to the point that it's hard to believe this is the sound of a mere trio. Restraint is exercised when it serves a song best, like on the bittersweet titular ballad, but when it's time to rock out, the band goes completely bonkers, and, in this sense, "Tropic Lame" sounds like a conventional alt-rock tune written by J Mascis and bashed out by a more mathematically muscular band like Thingy. Much like the criminally underrated aforementioned fellow SoCal group, Tera Melos are likely too clever and otherworldly with their music to ever make the cross from cult status to mega-stardom, which is upsetting, since X'ed Out deserves to be more than a secret pleasure. For one, they jump styles and slip into indie pop too effortlessly to be restricted to the shelves of post-rock fans. For another, it's hard to find fault with the pristine, angelic vocals (musicians of this caliber too often have a weak link in the vocal department, but Reinhart is a triple threat: guitarist, songwriter, and great singer to boot). Lastly, there isn't a soft spot on the album. X'ed Out is more fleshed-out, listenable, and revelatory than one could ever expect. At a time when fellow fingertapper Marnie Stern is toning down on the acrobatics in favor of hooks, Tera Melos show that you don't have to sacrifice one for the other.