In the three years since Venus Hum's well-received major-label debut Big Beautiful Sky, the trio had a recording contract collapse in a merger, lead singer Annette Strean lost her singing voice, and changing musical trends put ice-cool pop-tronica out of favor again. Undaunted—or at least only slightly daunted—Venus Hum returns with The Colors In The Wheel, which deals head-on with what the band has been facing. The album opens with the light, pretty, almost tropical "Turn Me Around," an acoustic ballad that picks up strength as it goes, adding burbling electronics and a Strean vocal that gradually shifts from whispery to richly throaty. It's an arresting way to begin: tinkering with the Venus Hum sound without dropping the band's commitment to connecting the synthetic and the human.
The Colors In The Wheel contains its share of harder dance tracks, like "Yes & No" and "Do You Want To Fight Me?", and Venus Hum displays a new kind of swagger in songs like the sassy "Pink Champagne" (the perfect soundtrack to some fashion model's runway walk) and the disjointed art-pieces "Surgery In The Sky" and "72 Degrees." But while Strean no longer sings with her former operatic abandon, she's still remarkably expressive, with a core of vulnerability that gives this album its beating heart. The Colors In The Wheel peaks in the classically sinewy synth-pop wonder "You Break Me Down," where Strean sings about exhaustion in a voice that keeps pushing to the edge of cracking, then coming back stronger.