Amoral kicks off with a sharp, springy bass riff leading into "The Dawn of Your Happiness," an aptly named slice of buoyant, Beatlesque power pop in the vein of XTC or Jellyfish. It's a stunning, unexpected opening move coming from a hiply appointed N.Y.C. rock band c. 2010, but it turns out to be something of a bait-and-switch. Although there are similar strands of melodic sweetness and gobs of '60s-sparked harmonies scattered throughout the rest of the album, they rarely come together again in such a distinct, indelible fashion, save perhaps on the much gentler "Violent Sensation Descends," a lovely bit of paisley pop with a particularly Shins-ish vocal turn from frontman Jorge Elbrecht, bookended by freakish noise barrages which sound something like the Zombies being devoured by actual zombies. Instead, Violenswork their way through a sea of arty guitar pop/rock influences, dredging up a slew of familiar post-punk, noise pop, and shoegaze touchstones, often all in the same track -- "Until It's Unlit," for instance, veers from a lite punk-funk groove oddly similar to Madonna's "Holiday" to dreamy, swirling psych-pop, to a crunchy, thrashing coda -- and often with pleasant results, but without ever settling on a coherent signature sound. Which is fine as far as it goes -- Amoral sounds quite lustrous, and yields a few worthy take-away moments, including the soft, gauzy "Trance-Like Turn," and especially the gritty, propulsive, cheekily titled single "Acid Reign" (which hints at the muscular majesty of School of Seven Bells -- a band, by the way, who manage to do something far more distinctive with a similar set of influences) -- but it adds up to a disappointingly undistinguished whole. Violens are descended from Lansing-Dreiden, a dormant-if-not-defunct band (or, as they'd have it, "art company") notorious for their opacity and anonymity, who were frequently accused of using enigmatic, overblown posturing to mask a fundamental lack of substance. It's a lot easier to figure out what's going on -- and what's not -- with this new incarnation, and even though there's still something slippery about their stylistic orientation, and perhaps a dearth of tangible content, it's great to hear these guys ply their considerable musical gifts in the interest of musical pleasure rather than high-concept artiness. Amoral or not, this album serves as a reminder that the superficial can still sound pretty super.