Graded on a Curve:
Bird Streets,
Lagoon

Bird Streets is the collaborative recording project of singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist John Brodeur, and Lagoon is the second album he’s recorded under the moniker, following a string of solo records beginning at the dawn of the 2000s. Brodeur’s experience is clearly discernable across the dozen songs of his latest, which benefits from an extensive list of contributors in service of bold pop-auteur moves, a few power-pop excursions, some baroque flourishes, and more. It’s out now through Sparkle Plenty and Deko Entertainment.

While John Brodeur contributed to a handful of outfits throughout the aughts, his highest profile activity was a series of solo efforts, with Tiger Pop the first in 2000. It took nine years for the follow-up Get Through to emerge, and then came Tiger Pop Ten, a re-recording of the debut with the original set included as a bonus disc. Little Hopes was released in 2013, and then Brodeur shifted focus to Bird Streets, with the debut album a self-titled affair that utilized Jason Faulkner as a player and producer; it was issued in 2018 via Omnivore Recordings.

Described as being in the tradition of the Todd Rundgren, Emmitt Rhodes, and Jon Brion, Bird Streets is a solid statement that sets the table quite nicely for Lagoon’s banquet of pop-auteur gestures, a set that’s ambitious without tipping over into self-indulgent. Opener “Sleeper Agent” finds Brodeur in a reflective place with piano at the fore and with string enhancements before the drums kick in, a decidedly ’70s scenario that’s a bit like Harry Nilsson under the sway of Jeff Lynne.

“Machine” is a more upbeat power-popping situation, erudite like Big Star if they were from the big city, but with added depth through the pedal steel of Superdrag’s John Davis and the piano of Wilco’s Pat Sansone. Sansone produced and plays on half of the tracks here, with “Burnout” sounding just a little like Wilco, at least until the chorus arrives.

It’s a naturally occurring similarity, even with Sansone on board. The same is true with ‘The Document,” which finds Brodeur sounding a bit like Sufjan Stevens in a warm and pretty tune that’s highlight is the clarinet of Jim Hoke. “Let You Down” is more upbeat, with a hint of a neo-’60s vibe, though it also hits like it could’ve been a ’90s radio hit, at least until it pours on the pop psychedelia in the back half.

The ’60s aura extends into “Leave No Trace” courtesy of sitar and tanpura from Davis, but it needs to be emphasized that these ingredients are integrated with taste and restraint. And the lyrics, especially in “Sleeper Agent,” Let You Down,” “SF 1993,” and Disappearing Act” drive home how Lagoon comes from a very personal place. “SF 1993” alternates gentle ’70s singer-songwriter-isms with rocking choruses, as Sansone’s mellotron is the highlight.

“Ambulance” has a bit of a ’90s mersh glammy-rock swagger, not my favorite sound in the world, but I do appreciate the extra boosts of guitar heaviness, while “Disappearing Act” adds a horn section and keyboards to fortify Brodeur’s soul purge. Then “On Fire” scales it back, blending indie folk with an influx of string arrangements from Patrick Warren for one of the record’s highlights.

Entering the home stretch, “Unkind” blends tenderness and flashes of vulnerability with a broad instrumental landscape and a rousing, anthemic conclusion (featuring Aimee Mann on bass). Closing the record is “Go Free,” the best Big Star rip this side of Teenage Fanclub, and with Jody Stephens on drums. Overall, Lagoon interweaves the in the studio Sansone sessions with songs built remotely due to the pandemic with little disruption. And if not every one of Brodeur’s gestures thrills me, his maximal tendencies ensure that all of Bird Streets’ songs offer something positive.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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