Songs from a Random House

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New York's Songs From a Random House continue to confound on the shape-shifting Glisten, their sophomore release for eccentric indie label Bar/None. The ukulele-led quintet manage to fuse progressive bluegrass, jazz, folk, and pop into a single organism, resulting in a sound that's as frustrating as it is electrifying. Leader Steven Swartz waxes poetic -- and not so -- on everything from weight loss to the joy of pillows in a voice that's eerily reminiscent of Scott Walker. In fact, many of the melodies, cadences, and arrangements on Glisten recall Walker's early-'70s experimentations with jazz, country, and soul, but they require patience as they're far too meandering to engage on the first listen. Swartz is at his best in mid-conversation, filling in the spaces with rhetoric that sounds like the Magnetic Fields' Steve Merritt doing his best Lou Reed, and while he may struggle for pitch, there's a cool effortlessness to his delivery of a line like "It's time you grow up/there's a lot/that you don't know/the taste of crow" that allows the listener to forgive the occasional warble. Musically, the group is top-notch, applying endlessly creative parts over Swartz's musings -- the string leads on "End of the Year" and "I Feel Love" are particularly rousing -- and providing Glisten with the kind of musical pedigree that will win over countless numbers of Béla Fleck, Bill Frisell, and Pentangle fans. The adventurous would do well to seek out this innovative group.

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