Piano Magic

Disaffected

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Although two exceptional EPs came out between The Troubled Sleep of Piano Magic and Disaffected, an entire year passed -- for the first time since Piano Magic's inception -- without an album-length release. (Piano Magic say this is their sixth proper album, meaning they're probably not counting the Son de Mar score and the two-song A Trick of the Sea.) Glen Johnson's group returns as inspired as ever, turning in a work that matches and occasionally exceeds Low Birth Weight and Artists' Rifles. Some of their other albums have suffered from mild to acute stray-idea syndrome, but they've found a way here to bundle up a number of disparate approaches while keeping it all focused and linear. The most striking songs on the album are "Disaffected" and "Deleted Scenes," where the usual (some might say redundant) round of Factory and 4AD inspirations shifts to the likes of Section 25 ("Looking for a Hilltop") and Abecedarians ("Smiling Monarchs"), with moody electro-pop translating to the dancefloor as easily as the bedroom. The synths remain in the background during the opening trio of Johnson-led guitar-dominated songs, all of which are taut and remarkably dynamic, practically busy by the group's subdued standard. The Czars' John Grant, who guested on lone Writers Without Homes highlight "The Season Is Long," returns for the elegantly dreary-dreamy "Your Ghost," another draw. (It's not a Kristin Hersh cover, but it's a good way to bookend a mixtape titled "Wallowing.") Since Disaffected seems to address each of the criticisms thrown at any of the group's past releases, it just might be the album that pushes several listeners off the fence. Even the lyrics are less pungent. If you still can't stomach them, the sounds and voices are so vivid that it won't take much imagination to direct your own drama in your head.

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