Lightspeed Champion

Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You

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With a track listing that is split into four sides like a vinyl double-album, two instrumental "Intermission" tracks, a cover shot designed to look like it was placed in an old-timey photo album -- not to mention the video for "Marlene," which centers around singer/songwriter Devonte Hynes getting dragged around the desert in a tragi-comic, Harold Lloyd kind of way -- Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You seems at first like a concept album soundtrack for an imagined Lightspeed Champion film. Conceptual conceits aside, Lightspeed Champion's 2010 sophomore effort Life Is Sweet! Nice to Meet You finds Hynes and producer Ben Allen (Gnarls Barkley, Animal Collective, Christina Aguilera) delivering a robust, melodically rich, and lyrically complex album that goes well beyond the bedroom Baroque pop of his 2007 debut Falling Off the Lavender Bridge. In that sense, Hynes has developed nicely as a vocalist since Lavender Bridge, and where he was once a pleasant, if somewhat lo-fi presence as a singer, he now splits the difference between the earnest, literate ache of Ed Harcourt and the theatrical croon of Rufus Wainwright. This newfound, angsty swagger and urbane, chic persona fits Hynes well and rubs brilliantly against such yearning and epic pop numbers as "Faculty of Fears" and "I Don't Want to Wake Up Alone." These are huge, Motown-sounding set pieces that frame Hynes as a male Dusty Springfield backed by symphonic strings, jangly guitars, and urgent, driving percussion. Elsewhere, tracks like the melancholy ballad "Smooth Day (At the Library)" and "Middle of the Dark" mix analog-sounding synths, plinky piano, sizzlingly mournful guitar solos, and Hynes' blissed-out soulman-meets-ELO's Jeff Lynne-vibe with superb results.

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