Lonely Drifter Karen


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It's hardly a surprise that a band called Lonely Drifter Karen would be as footloose and fancy-free as possible, and the trio's third album, Poles, shows they're just as willing to change their music as their location. Core members Tanja Frinta and Marc Meliá Sobrevias moved to Brussels after a stint in Barcelona with longtime drummer Giorgio Menossi, recruiting French multi-instrumentalist Clément Marion along the way. Regardless of whether it was the change in lineup or home base that caused it, Poles finds Lonely Drifter Karen striking off in a bold new direction, injecting their already masterful blend of folk, pop, and cabaret with rock and electronic touches, but these new additions don't tame the group at all -- if anything, these vivid, intricate songs are among the freest in their songbook. "Eyes of a Wolf" is fittingly feral, with a brittle, fairy-tale delicacy to its melody; on "Soul Traveler," Frinta has a dazzling communion with her "shambling lover"; and the starlit synth on "Henry Distance" calls to mind the weirdly mystical quality of Susanna and the Magical Orchestra and Felt Mountain-era Goldfrapp. Frinta's smoothly soaring vocals are, as always, a focal point, and the fact that she doesn't sound quite like most other contemporary singers just adds to Lonely Drifter Karen's rootlessness; on "Brand New World" they sound exotic without recalling any particular place. However, on Poles, Frinta, Sobrevias, and Marion drift not just from place to place and sound to sound, but seemingly through time and space as well. "Traffic Lights" is a sweet piece of three-chord pop that could be straight from the mid-'60s, while "Comet"'s sharp edges and rubbery keyboards place it in the '80s and "Exactly Light" closes the album by floating through the cosmos. Impressively, the album's highlights are equally good and equally different from each other, spanning the elegantly psychedelic chamber pop of "Three Colors Red," the zero-gravity love song "Dizzy Days," and "Velvet Rope," a hip-swaying electro jam that is equally sensual and alien. With so many different sounds done so well, Poles is a big step forward for Lonely Drifter Karen, and proof that they're still vagabonds at heart -- they've just got a bigger bag of tricks here.

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