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The realm of sweet pop nostalgia is a fervent pursuit for Belle & Sebastian front-man Stuart Murdoch. This is his pet project, a musical of sorts; a story about a common girl wrangling the throes of modern love set to music only possible in the dreams of Murdoch’s nutrasweet pop brain. Vocalists Brittany Stollings and Dina Bankole treat Murdoch’s female anti-heroes with a knowing lilt, akin to the territory Holly Golightly has traversed, but glossed over with suburban mundanity bred into his sharply obvious lyrics, a trademark of the Belle & Sebastian sound. Murdoch himself careens through the odd song here and there, his pompous quaint waverings most instantly familiar in the Eleanor Rigby-esque Pretty Eve in the Tub. Funny Little Frog, with lead vocals by Stollings, is perhaps the pinnacle of the catchiness of this record – a testament to Murdoch’s skill with a felt-tip marker, the arrangements are highly sophisticated, horns strings and pitter-patter pop drumming decorating the album like a Christmas tree. The whole thing is solidly worked, and clearly thought out to appeal to the fans of vintage pop – however there’s just not enough grit to make the Spector fans happy, and not enough heartstopping tunes to feed the Bacharach set. So it all sits somewhere in the middle of almost-greatness, and the tone of the material is so safe and sugary that after a while it tends to turn saccharine, then sour on the palette. Eerily devoid of real emotional connection, instead of taking the listener on a dreamy trip, this record somehow feels a little odd and cold.

**1/2