Back to Forever

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Lissie may have begun her career as a simple singer/songwriter, but those days were long gone by the time she arrived at her second album, 2013's Back to Forever. Produced by Jack Knife Lee -- best known for his work with latter-day R.E.M., Weezer, and Snow Patrol -- Back to Forever trades as heavily on the thick gloss of the '80s as it does the near-simultaneously released Days Are Gone by Haim, but it also has the gossamer sheen of Eurogloss that seems incongruous coming from a native of Illinois and current resident of California. Nevertheless, that slight cognitive dissonance adds resonance and depth to Lissie in general and Back to Forever especially, preventing the music from getting mired in classic rock tropes or seeming too ephemeral. Nevertheless, the mix of high gloss and precision songwriting means the album's peaks often fall into a netherworld that recalls pre-MTV AOR crossover as much as it does new wave: it's the forgotten, synthesized soft rock of the '80s, shining brightly on such precisely constructed confections as "Sleepwalking" and "Further Away (Romance Police)," both conjuring the ghost of Quarterflash, but it's also there on stomping rockers like "I Don't Wanna Go to Work" and "Cold Fish." Occasionally, the po-faced singer/songwriter of yore peeks through the cracks -- usually, it's on the ballads, or on the tunes where Lee accentuates the acoustic guitars -- but Lissie's strength is how she uses the past as foundation, not aspiration, and that's why Back to Forever is a lithe, unpredictable, and seductive collection of modern pop: it places equal emphasis on song and sound.

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