by: Lenka

Anybody who was hoping the second Lenka album would be a dark, moody, sober, edgy, or in any way downcast affair is, first of all, probably not a very realistic person and, secondly, gearing up for a serious disappointment. Otherwise, it's hard to imagine anybody being disappointed by the Australian sparkle-pop princess' sophomore outing, which is every bit as lovably bright and sunny as her debut. (Unless, of course, the listener in question doesn't have the stomach for this sort of frothy, sugary-sweet musical confection to begin with -- which is certainly understandable, though still a darn shame.) That said, Two definitely does have a bit more bite than its predecessor, and a slightly more modern sound, tending away from Lenka's lavish, Hollywood-style orchestrations toward lightly embellished small-group arrangements and, occasionally, sleek electro-pop. The major exception is first single "Roll with the Punches," a big, buoyant creampuff of a tune that revisits the singsong cadence of Lenka's breakout hit "The Show," with all the requisite layers of strings, trumpets, organs, and backing vocals. But the other similarly "vintage"-styled swing numbers here -- the bouncy "Everything's Okay" and cutie-pie nursery rhyme "Everything at Once" -- keep things relatively simple and piano-based. Meanwhile, the title cut shows Lenka at her leanest and meanest, with a stripped-down kicks'n'claps beat and a funky acoustic guitar/fuzz-toned synth bass riff. "Blinded by Love" and "Here to Stay" are classically styled pop/rock ballads that go easy on the instrumental theatrics, instead gleaning their emotional power from Lenka's increasingly impressive singing and songcraft. And the slinky "You Will Be Mine" shows that she could hack it as a competent (if somewhat faceless) seductive indie electro diva, although the sparkly, effervescent "Shocked Me into Love" is a far more gratifying synth pop foray, sounding not unlike a young Kylie Minogue at her bubbliest, and just a remix away from serious dance chart potential. It's a considerable stylistic range for one album, but Lenka pulls it off and keeps it cohesive, thanks to an unerring gift for melody and a subtly sophisticated understanding of pop poetics. She knows how these things can work in reverse -- "Sing me a sad song and make me feel better/Sing me a happy song and I might start to cry," she croons on the deceptively titled "Sad Song" -- which might explain why perhaps the sweetest number here is about the apocalypse: "The End of the World," which plays as sort of an inverse of a Skeeter Davis classic. All told, Two is just as wonderfully winning as its predecessor, fully deserving a spot alongside it (and alongside Regina Spektor, Marit Larsen, and the Bird and the Bee) on the top shelf of shiny-smart, retro-contemporary happy pop. ~ K. Ross Hoffman

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