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ERIN McKEOWN

We Will Become Like Birds

Erin McKeown's major-label debut, Grand, received great critical acclaim in response to the cerebral wunderkind's own instrumentation, which covered genres from jazz to swing to lounge. With a voice that can go from Judy Garland to Gwen Stefani, and a great pop sensibility, the possibilities of what she would do next were limitless.

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But McKeown surprises again by reigning herself in on her most recent release, We Will Become Like Birds. As she explores the metaphor of flight for rising above one's troubles, she leaves the bulk of the instrumentation to others as she sticks with guitar and vocals. While this move does not lead the listener to the immediate "wow" impact that Grand yielded, the songs slowly grow and improve over repeated listens. Producer Tucker Martine (Modest Mouse) puts enough punch in songs like "To the Stars" and "White City" that, if pop music were based on quality alone, they would sit atop any top 40 list. Sometimes the songs just float by too easily ("The Golden Dream" and "Delicate December" sound like Grand rejects), but McKeown's crisp vocals and strong sense of melody never keep it boring for long. Birds raises the question, "What will she do next?"