Le Concorde

Universe and Villa

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There's a subtle undercurrent of mad glee that runs through Universe and Villa, singer/songwriter Stephen Becker's second Le Concorde release, a subtlety that peels away with each repeated listen. This is grandly arranged -- yet deceptively simple -- metropolitan pop music in the vein of the Beautiful South, Belle & Sebastian and the Magnetic Fields that oozes enough self-deprecating wit, good-natured cynicism, and pure-pop posturing to satisfy both Morrissey and Fountains of Wayne fans alike. Tailor-made for late night, summer-in-the-city driving, Becker's meandering voice can be both fey and brutal -- "I Hate Rock and Roll" -- but it's his soaring falsetto that's the record's most dangerous weapon. The mesmerizing "Controlling," with its Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie-channeling-Prince, arcs from nearly spoken word to full-on banshee wail (the album's high point), while the ABC-inspired "Archeology of Cruelty" shows an artist who is unafraid to challenge his listener's adherence to the "genre-fication" of indie rock. While Universe and Villa may not hit the mark all the time, it hits a couple of moments within each song every time.

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