The Rentals' third official album isn't as ambitious as the project that occupied Matt Sharp's life in 2009. That year was spent on the Songs About Time box set of films, photos, and music, including three EPs of songs about the passage of time and the mixed feelings that come along with it. For the band's 2014 album on Polyvinyl, Lost in Alphaville, Sharp cherry-picked ten songs from Time and re-recorded them in much more fleshed-out and powerful fashion, with contributions from longtime collaborator Lauren Chipman, Ozma guitarist Ryen Slegr, Black Keys drummer Patrick Carney, and, as Sharp's all-important vocal foils, Jess Wolfe and Holly Laessig of the group Lucius. A truly modern collaborative effort where the people on the record never even met, Sharp recorded the basic tracks with Slegr in L.A., flew to Nashville to get Carney's powerful drumming on tape, and took his studio on the road to New York City to add Wolfe and Laessig's angelic tones. Sharp also kept some of the sounds from the Songs About Time sessions, including vocals by the West Los Angeles Children's Choir on two songs and Joey Santiago's flaming guitar leads on "Song of Remembering." After getting everything recorded, Sharp spent a mind-expandingly long time arranging the sounds before turning it over to D. Sardy for the final mix. After such a convoluted process, there was a good chance the record would sound overcooked and stale. Far from it, Lost in Alphaville is a huge-sounding modern indie rock album with a glossy sheen on the surface, but all kinds of heart beating just below. Carney's drums power things ahead like a locomotive, Slegr's guitars provide just the right amount of crunch, and Sharp's well-placed vintage synths are perfect candy-coating on top. Though the women of Lucius don't have the same homespun appeal of some of Sharp's past vocalists, their dulcet tones fit the mix perfectly, and when they take the lead, like on "Damaris" or "The Future," they sound quite lovely. Through it all, Sharp's everyman vocals, thoughtful lyrics, and downcast personality ground things like he's a wistful indie rock Charlie Brown, holding on tight to his melancholy as the world swirls around him. It's an act that never grows old, especially when he writes songs as fist-pumpingly rocked-out as "Traces of Our Tears," "Thought of Sound," and "1000 Seasons." Balancing them with ballads as heart-tuggingly sincere as "It's Time to Come Home" and "Stardust" or songs that show the results of all the time Sharp spent arranging them (the spacy and beautiful album capper "The Future") gives the album a rounded, complete feeling that makes it the equal of early Rentals album, and maybe even better. Certainly more mature and thoughtful, with no "Friends of P" in sight, but plenty of songs that sound like timeless hits, and plenty of powerfully felt and delivered songs that hit hard right in the nostalgia zone, drawing blood and tears with every blow.
AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra