Magnetic North

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Aqualung occupies the curious space between Coldplay and Jamie Cullum, a singer/songwriter with serious aspirations but a bent toward populism -- a bent that he can barely control, nor should he, because as Magnetic North, his sixth album, illustrates, he’s at his best when he’s broadest, writing songs with skyscraping hooks that are given soft, shimmering productions. He often favors pulsating arpeggios and icy crescendos, just like Chris Martin’s crew, but the record takes off when things get bouncier, like on the quite terrific opener “New Friend” -- which sounds like a long-lost collaboration between Beck and Elton John -- and the chipper “Fingertip.” These are as good of an indication of the Los Angeles origin of Magnetic North as the songs that directly reference SoCal (“California,” “Hummingbird,’ “Sundowning”) and they showcase Aqualung at his best: an artful yet melodic heir to piano-driven ‘70s singer/songwriters.

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