The Lilac Time

Return to Us

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Though the acoustic-minded U.K. indie pop group dates back to the '80s, the Lilac Time's tenth studio album, Return to Us, marks 20 years with the trio lineup of Stephen, Nick, and Claire (Worrall) Duffy. The follow-up to 2015's No Sad Songs, it was prompted by certain political trends in the intervening four years, during which, as bandleader Stephen Duffy put it, "the world went stupid." An agreeable, gently pastoral set, it presents nine tracks (eight songs and an instrumental) with a mind to reassure fans with not only its easygoing musical tone but sentiments like "Hey, you're not alone/Don't worry, I'm with you." Those words are from opener "(I'm A) Believer." A mid-tempo track with strummed acoustic guitars, accordion-like voices, mallet percussion, and a sing-songy chorus, it greets listeners with a metaphorical hand on the shoulder and an invitation to curl up in a comfortable seat, without skirting the issue at hand. The song even calls for revolution in brief, trippier passages. It's followed by the D-Day-inspired "March to the Docks," whose atmospheric pedal steel is a trait of much of the album. Elsewhere, the lively title track was written three days after the election of President Trump and plays off a prior speech by President Obama. (In Duffy's version, "If the song can change a theater/The song can change a town/And if the song can change a city...," and so on.). The stripped-down "The Bridge & Down" is an earnest, Dylan-inspired call to resist. Not all the songs here are politically charged, however: "The Needles" is a Christmas-themed love long, and the country-inflected "The Simple Things" remembers life with less technology. Regardless of track-specific inspirations, the tunes are melodic, warm, and restrained throughout Return to Us, a well-timed outing that serves as both an articulate acknowledgment and a calming diversion.

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