Since releasing his 2003 album Lovers, The Sleepy Jackson frontman Luke Steele has apparently gone soft. Not that that's a bad thing. Instead of an indie-rock band with orchestral leanings, the Perth, Australia outfit has become a lush pop experience combining all the usual influences with a beat that sometimes feels like an afterthought. Within the first 30 seconds of "Devil Was In My Yard," the opening track of Personality: One Was A Spider, One Was A Bird, Steele has brought in Brian Wilson harmonies, a George Harrison-inspired guitar line, and is that just a hint of ELO? It's familiar, but ultimately too inspired to be derivative. Steele has an ear for intriguing combinations of sounds, a voice that sells his conviction, and a keen sense of how much passion can be squeezed into a bouncy pop song.
Steele has clearly studied his influences, but for a master class in how to create hauntingly mellow modern pop, he might consider picking up the latest from Scritti Politti. This is only the fourth album from the band—now just Welsh singer-songwriter Green Gartside—in 18 years, and only the second since its '80s heyday. Gartside's evolution from squat-dwelling, theory-espousing post-punk radical to a mid-'80s synth-pop hit-machine with a political agenda is one of the more fascinating stories in modern pop (check out Simon Reynolds' great post-punk history Rip It Up And Start Again for the full details), and for the 21st century, he's transformed himself into a bedroom Brian Wilson capable of singing lines like "made me think of how brave you are and how come I have strayed so far / and how everything came apart in my head and in my heart" as easily as most singers croon "I love you." Rarely have Pro Tools and a melancholy disposition fallen into such capable hands.