Chris Robley is one of those mad scientists of pop-rock, whose baroque experiments include everything but the kitchen synth. In a light tenor that falls somewhere between the voices of John Lennon and Donovan, Robley sings dark songs of alienation, ennui, obsession, compulsion and heart-rending romance.
On his second CD, Robley sets his investigations into the dark corners of the soul among eccentric, lovely chamber-pop arrangements that borrow from a variety of timeless styles, few of which are associated with contemporary music. But all are so inventive and playful, nothing on this CD can be considered retro.
"Culture Jammer" has a lively Tin Pan Alley flair, with banjo and brass contrasted against electronic background noise. "N.E. Brazee" is an organ-propelled tango seasoned with stabs of angular piano and poetic horns, to which Robley adds a stinging psychedelic-rock guitar solo. "The Love I Fake" has a ragtime feel, complete with a haunting clarinet figure escorting a lurching horn section. His music gets quieter in the dark, too, as when he describes the decay and repression of "Faulkner's South."
Listeners with short memories have compared Robley's music to that of Elliott Smith, John Vanderslice and Badly Drawn Boy. But pure-pop fetishists may hear in Robley's music echoes of such acts as The dB's, Big Star, the quirkier side of T. Rex and World Party.