“It’s a gray world,” sings Josh Rouse in the song “Summer Kitchen Ballad” off his new album Under Cold Blue Stars.

Paul Wong

You can tell he means it so much that it makes you want to cry.

Rouse is the answer for those who like Radiohead but dislike their pretentious manner. He’s more melodic, poppier and extremely genuine. He’s sad and sleepy, but not really mysterious or dark.

He sings in a light falsetto over a mesh of loops, guitars, cellos, horns and keyboards on his third album. It is not surprising to learn that the record was produced by Roger Moutenot, who has worked with Yo La Tengo and Freedy Johnston.

Under Cold Blue Stars is a loose concept album based “around the trials and tribulations of a small-town southern couple in the 1950s,” according to Rouse. Taking this into consideration, Rouse’s lyrics are beautifully crafted and sung with great feeling. It sounds like he means every word he croons over the highly textured music.

The seamless but complex track “Ugly Stories” seems to sum up the whole album. It is melancholy but almost disturbingly truthful and clear. “Feeling No Pain,” continues along this stark train of thought.

If one was looking to find any fault with the album, it might be the near excess of formulaic chord progressions and the overuse of one style of singing.

Altogether though, Under Cold Blue Stars is a beautifully crafted record that is easy to listen to, even if it does make you want to embrace what is pathetic in the world just that little bit more.

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