For her sophomore major label release, We Will Become Like Birds, singer-songwriter Erin McKeown strays even farther from her folky beginnings, adding subtle electronic flourishes (“Air,” “We Are More”) and hip-hop beats (the stand-out “Beautiful”) to her repertoire. For those unfamiliar with McKeown, who studied ethnomusicology at Brown University before carving a place for herself in the New Folk movement of the late ‘90s, think Suzanne Vega but dewier…or Dido but even mellower, if that’s possible. McKeown’s biggest strengths are constructing surprisingly catchy pop melodies (something that can’t always be said for her folk-pop contemporaries) and eloquent, elegiac lyrics: “Walking we are caught by tiny hooks that hold our hope,” she sings on the opening track “Aspera,” the hook of which is based on the Latin phrase ad astra per aspera, or “to the stars through difficulties.” (Or, if you want to get all red state about it, success requires effort, whether it’s saving a relationship or getting to the moon.) From the album’s artwork to songs like “Life On The Moon” and “To The Stars,” much of We Will Become Like Birds is concerned with all things out-of-this-world and the inner-workings of how to get there. Unfortunately, McKeown’s poeticism proves a bit tiresome by the album’s second half, rendering songs like ” The Golden Dream” (featuring Argentinean electronic singer-songwriter Juana Molina) impersonal, while making others, like “Float,” fall short of their lofty goals.
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