The opening line of Aim and Ignite —"As I walk through the streets of my new city, I'm back feeling much better, I suppose"—is the same sort of heart-on-the-sleeve sentimentality that distinguished fun. singer Nate Ruess with his previous band, The Format.
It's also a statement of purpose for Ruess, whose work here is a more theatrical and slightly more musically varied version of the ultra-catchy indie-pop that sent the Phoenix-area native on a quick ascension.
As the opening cascade of strings and accordion on "Be Calm" gives way to a herald-like trumpet and military drum rolls, it's clear that Ruess has progressed as a singer, able to both whisper and wail, conveying an emotional range that stretches from joyousness to vulnerability.
But however unrestrained Ruess feels with new bandmates Andrew Dost (Anathallo) and Jack Antonoff (Steel Train), there's still something missing from his collaboration with The Format's Sam Means, whose more grounded and understated skills as a guitarist made him such a fitting foil for Ruess.
"Benson Hedges" and "All the Pretty Girls" swell with handclaps, strings and sing-along choruses, while "At Least I'm Not as Sad (As I Used to Be)" and "Light a Roman Candle With Me" could easily find their way into a 21st-century indie musical.
Produced by Steven McDonald (Redd Kross) and Roger Joseph Manning Jr., who filled the same roles on The Format's Dog Problems, Aim and Ignite rushes along with the exuberant flair and candied adrenaline that you'd expect from a band named fun.