In spite of its loop-de-loop pretensions and fondness for the abstruse, Chicago band Joan Of Arc has actually followed a fairly straight path: It began life as a rock group with arthouse aspirations in 1997, and slowly evolved into an experiment that almost no one except its members (particularly mastermind Tim Kinsella) seemed to get. Its first two albums captured moments of skewed brilliance, while its next two relied almost solely on the skewed. It would make sense, then, for album number five, So Much Staying Alive And Lovelessness, to slip all the way into Kinsella's navel, but it doesn't. Instead, it's billed as Joan Of Arc's return to more palatable song-shaping, and by that measure, it's a success. The annoying non sequiturs of 2000's The Gap and its companion EP How Can Anything So Little Be Any More are ditched in favor of songs that, to a large degree, could actually have been played by a live band. "The Infinite Blessed Yes" and "Perfect Need And Perfect Completion" strike a balance between Joan Of Arc's ability to write great songs and its need to tinker with formula. Kinsella once postulated that the group was doomed to failure because "We're too fucked-up for the people who like pretty music, and we're too pretty for the people who like fucked-up music." But that pessimistic self-deprecation fails to account for his band's ability–used too infrequently in recent years, but still there–to find the place where fucked-up and pretty get along: It's more of a challenge than succumbing to weirdness for weirdness' sake, and a lot more pleasing to the ear. For much of So Much Staying Alive And Lovelessness, Joan Of Arc finds that place, and the result is a grand step back into listenability.