Land of Talk leading lady Elizabeth Powell has managed an impressive feat in her musical career: with her ever-changing line-up of bandmates, she's made one album and a handful of EPs that are remarkably similar yet are still, somehow, also remarkable on their own merits. There's a fine line between knowing what works for you and writing the same record, and Powell navigates it with the balance and finesse of a seasoned tight-rope walker.
The Canadian trio's latest record Cloak and Cipher shows this finesse at its finest. The record is certainly an evolution from 2008's Some Are Lakes, but a slow evolution driven by the same subtlety that allows poignant, hopeful melancholy to seep into the background of what would otherwise be merely well-constructed indie pop songs. That subtlety, it can be argued, is the quiet means of gently coercing the listener to a certain place that originally brought Land of Talk to indie rock prominence. Tracks like "Goal time Exposure" and "Blangee Blee" float and glimmer wistfully, while twisting, distorted guitars rub against Powell's sweet vocals on "Swift Coin" and "The Hate I Won't Commit," contrasting just enough to be interesting without losing pop accessibility. Again, subtlety is key.
Another standout, "Color Me Badd," is, humorous song title aside, full of sweeping harmonies and layered guitars that show Land of Talk at their best, both musically and lyrically. Guests like Arcade Fire drummer Jeremy Gara ("Quarry Hymns") and Patrick Watson, as well as members of Stars and Wintersleep, become extra instruments in band's arsenal, lending their talents far more than they showcase them. As its title suggests, this record is not what it seems at first listen, but one that's worth the extra effort to decipher all of its introverted intricacies.