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Ivan & Alyosha's first full-length album, All the Times We Had, comes out Feb. 26. (Courtesy of the artist)

First Listen: Ivan & Alyosha, 'All The Times We Had'

Feb 10, 2013

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Stephen Thompson

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Can a debut album really be "long-awaited"? The Seattle folk-pop band Ivan & Alyosha has been percolating for years now, bubbling up with several ingratiating EPs and even performing a Tiny Desk Concert back in early 2011, so even hearing All the Times We Had presented as a "debut" feels strange. These guys have been polishing and tightening their sound — and many of these particular songs — for ages, though this seems like as good a moment as any for a proper coming-out party.

Besides, it's about time Ivan & Alyosha received due praise as a standard-bearer for hyper-accessible, harmony-rich roots music: The band writes gorgeous, swelling, impeccably built songs about love and faith — several of its members are married with kids, and it shows — and performs them with real charm. The sweetly propulsive "Easy to Love" has aged nicely since a bunch of us became smitten with it while preparing for SXSW in 2010; with its wise, graceful look at enduring commitment, it's a Valentine's Day-friendly love song that never gets stuck in sap. Elsewhere, Ivan & Alyosha's songs chug and soar agreeably and kindly; even the album-closing kiss-off "Who Are You" softens its tough words with gigantic hooks.

With so many fresh-faced, sweet-voiced folk-pop bands vying for real estate in the middle of the road, the keys to standing out lie in songwriting, craftsmanship and likability. Ivan & Alyosha's members aren't looking to invent a new form on All the Times We Had, but they sure do come close to perfecting the one they've got.

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