Done no favors by its mid-winter release, Jill Cunniff’s City Beach is an album perfectly suited to lazy summer afternoons, combining laidback pop melodies with half-tempo hip-hop rhythms and a healthy dose of modern rock’s nervous energy. Stylistically, that sound isn’t a huge departure for Cunniff, a founding member of Luscious Jackson, but City Beach boasts a far more diverse sonic palette than any of her band’s albums, and Cunniff has never sounded more joyful as a singer or writer as she does here. Even when covering common themes (with its refrain of “When you are feeling down, let the record spin around,” “Happy Warriors” is a shinier, more soulful take on Corinne Bailey Rae’s “Put Your Records On,” while “Apartment 3” plays out as a wistful variation on Tammy Wynette’s wrenching “Apartment #9”), Cunniff’s ear for an exceptional melodic hook and her creative, truly inspired production choices, like the bossa nova flourishes in the chorus of “NYC Boy,” keep every track on the album sounding fresh. With her tales of beautiful people, mostly fulfilling relationships, and the occasional orange popsicle, Cunniff uses her dry wit and contagious optimism to give City Beach a kind of clear sense of place and time that is rarely captured on a pop record. There’s also a wonderful moment of auto-critique when, over the low-key groove of “Warm Sound,” she suggests, “Let’s start the century again at a slower pace.” It’s a line that speaks to very current feelings of listlessness (feelings she revisits on “Future Call” and “Disconnection”), and to a need to embrace the exact kind of escapism that the warm sounds of City Beach provide. Really, when a pop album has the smarts to make such a convincing case for itself, what’s left to do but sit back and enjoy it?
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