By the time Montreal’s Land Of Talk made 2008’s Some Are Lakes, songwriter/guitarist/singer Liz Powell had grown weary of flogging the voracious, power-trio-driven songs of 2006’s Applause Cheer Boo Hiss. Cloak And Cipher’s title track doesn’t revive Applause’s scrunched-together electric-guitar chords, but it shares that EP’s resourcefulness with simple elements: The song shifts between a home-recorded feel on the verse and a clean piano on the chorus. While Powell’s voice tends to blur her words, the vocal melodies firmly lead the songs, driving clarity into the misty layers of “Goaltime Exposure” and “Hamburg, Noon.” When Powell’s guitar comes up in the mix (“Swift Coin,” “The Hate I Won’t Commit”) it continues to sing and scrape simultaneously.
Cloak flows more like an assortment of four-track experiments than a cohesive album, if only because each song uses a different jumble of elements, from the drum machine and horns on “Color Me Badd” to the keyboard blur of “Better And Closer” to the 12-string intro that must have given “Blangee Blee” its name. Powell thrives on compact arrangements that wouldn’t work for Stars or Arcade Fire (some of whose members guest on the album), and her songwriting is still purposeful enough to cut through Cloak And Cipher’s indecisive momentum. More importantly, she’s in no danger of blending in with her contemporaries’ indie-on-the-mount pomp.