Kiwi native Brooke Fraser continues to distance herself from the more folk-oriented singer/songwriter fare of her earlier work, distinctly turning a corner on her fourth LP Brutal Romantic. An acoustic songbird trying on an edgier pop sound isn't necessarily a revolution, but this sea change still feels pretty dramatic when compared to some of the pleasant but innocuous folk-pop cuts from her last release 2010's Flags. Aided by co-producer David Kosten (Bat for Lashes, Everything Everything), Brutal Romantic has a very deliberate sonic palette, full of warm distortions and stuttering, clamorous beats with plenty of open landscapes for Fraser to unfold herself in. Her guitar is noticeably absent throughout as the songs emerge through sleek, icy verses often leading to vibrant, gospel choir-assisted choruses. This counterpoint between light and dark elements is highly effective on standouts like the intense, soulful opener "Psychosocial" and the sensual, jungle thump of "Thunder." Against this cinematic, synth-laden backdrop, Fraser sounds fully in control, delivering commanding performances and stretching her artistic muscle on material that feels both experimental and accessible. Already a veteran star in New Zealand, this foray into modern pop puts her on the world stage alongside contemporaries like Ellie Goulding, Feist, Lana Del Rey, and fellow countrywoman Lorde. Echoes of each of these artists can be heard in Fraser's new design and her greatest difficulty may now be keeping her own distinct edge in an arena already crowded with darkly inclined pop stars. Brutal Romantic may be a bit uneven with its best songs loaded onto the front half, but it's certainly an exciting release and represents a major development in Fraser's career.
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AllMusic Review by Timothy Monger