Universe and Villa
There’s a lot to love about Universe and Villa, but so much of it is that the album becomes an endurance test for lovers of breezy indie pop. Like so many songwriters who have come in the wake of Belle & Sebastian’s Stuart Murdoch, Le Concorde’s Stephen Becker likes to write windswept, affectionate acoustic guitar hooks with introspective and/or melancholy lyrics. While most of his contemporaries languish in mediocrity or derivation, Becker hits on all creative cylinders on many occasions, including opener “People Mover,” the Joy Division-inflected “In the Morning” and “Archeology of Cruelty.” The common themes linking Becker’s best tracks are anthemic, upbeat hooks and epically catchy vocal melodies. He isn’t a songwriter of great depth, however, and by the time the last fourth of the album rolls around there’s little to distinguish its minimal grandeur from the preceding ten tracks. Some blame could be placed on the band’s performing dynamic, which rarely rises above someone accompanying Becker on piano and percussion. A well-used skip button can make this CD a great half-hour listen, but as a whole it’s a decent stepping stone to (hopefully) better album tracking decisions to come.