On her third album A New Illusion, singer/songwriter Rose Elinor Dougall adds producer to her CV on a set of beguilingly moody pop songs. Working with her friend Matthew Twaites, she's taken a step away from the glossy, synth-driven space age pop sound of her previous record Stellular in favor of something more organic and intimate. The pair brought in a bunch of friends and family, including members of Younghusband and her brother Tom's band Toy, to add guitars, strings and sax to Rose's piano and keyboards. The combination of spare and ornate sounds are arranged to create a gently lush backdrop for her hauntingly pretty vocals. Unlike Stellular, which felt very precise and almost machine-driven, the sound here is very human and rich. At times it sounds like what an Adele record might have sounded like if she had picked different collaborators; big and emotion-packed, but with some very welcome restraint. There are some songs here that could be arena-sized statements with a little push: the title track with its soaring chorus and heavenly vocal harmonies or the heavy, Metric-like "Take What You Can Get" certainly qualify. What holds them back are the taste of the producers, plus Dougall's vocal restraint. She's more likely to sneak around the emotions than she is to club the listener over the head with them. This is especially true on the album's quieter songs like "Too Much of Not Enough" or "Wordlessly," where her voice takes the lead, smearing mascara and breaking hearts with easy grace. When she and her crew actually do swing for the fences, as on the epic ballad "Christina in Red," they do it with a relaxed approach that lets the song breathe as it grows in sonic stature. That song in particular shows off Dougall's growth as a writer and creator of music; the rest of the record is impressive, too, and "That's Where the Trouble Started" even sounds like it could be a hit on a radio station where they specialize in hooky bummer pop. Dougall has always been blessed with an arresting voice and presence, it's fun to listen as she tries out different styles and sounds. Stellular feels like a good place to stay for a while, cranking out great space age pop albums every couple years. Give her credit for not being content to do that and to try something a little different. Even better, her weightier songwriting and expansive production make A New Illusion the match of Stellular and something more rewarding on an emotional level.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra