Sarah Slean, a songwriter who has proceeded at her own pace in her career, releasing EPs when full-length albums might have been expected, cutting independent discs even after signing on with a major, seems to have decided that the time finally was ripe to swing for the fences in 2011 with her sprawling Land & Sea, an 18-song epic album that addresses big themes. It also employs more vibrant, driving music than has been typical for her, at least on the first, Land, half. Here, she plays pop/rock music, still arranged around her piano, but taking a distinctly uptempo approach. That approach serves the sometimes biting, if often abstract, observations in her lyrics. The ambitions are clear in titles like "The Day We Saved the World" and "Set It Free," just as a caustic view of contemporary society is expressed in "Everybody's on TV" (which refers to "the movie of our vanity") and "Society Song" ("I'm glad I don't belong"). In the midst of such broad strokes, however, Slean can paint specific, emotional portraits such as that in "I Am a Light" ("All I can dream about is how to make you smile"). She is no less ambitious in the album's second Sea half, beginning with "Cosmic Ballet," although the rock elements disappear in favor of symphonic arrangements. Here, Slean becomes more conciliatory, notably in songs like "You're Not Alone" and "The One True Love," even as she continues to encourage grand emotions and widescreen expressions. "Throw your heart into the ocean," she tells her listener in "The Right Words." Even if her reach at times seems to exceed her grasp, she is saved from pretentiousness in this lengthy, sometimes overwrought effort by the depth of feeling she evidences and by her ability to take on the universe while never losing sight of the importance of the personal within the cosmic. That makes Land & Sea a big statement that has some small concerns, too.