Saint Etienne, the boundary-defying trio composed of Bob Stanley, Pete Wiggs, and Sarah Cracknell, is the sonic equivalent of a phenomenal cappuccino sipped outside a posh London café. The critically acclaimed group’s latest, a loosely structured concept album titled Tales From Turnpike House, is an exquisite excursion through electronica-dappled Brit-pop, smooth, dance-ready grooves, and lightly-feathered, heavenly vocals from Ms. Cracknell. It’s almost as if the threesome distilled all of the most irresistible quirks of British music that make critics swoon into one eminently listenable package—pretty understandable when you realize this is a band created, in part, by a former music journalist (Stanley’s the guilty party). While the press materials go a bit far in trumpeting Tales From Turnpike House as “‘A Day In The Life’ revisited,” it’s nevertheless quite effective at evoking what’s described as “a concept album reflecting the dramas and joys of the inhabitants of a tower block apartment on the outskirts of London.” With three tracks tacked on for its Stateside release, the group’s first full-length since 2002’s Finisterre is a sweeping, sophisticated whole that ebbs and flows masterfully. “Milk Bottle Symphony” is a wry bit of storytelling, while the stylish “Lightning Strikes Twice” will probably make Kylie Minogue pout her way right out of the disco; “Oh My” is worth the price of admission alone, given that Brad Pitt and James Spader’s names will never be that close to each other ever again. Tales From Turnpike House was released, curiously enough, on the American Savoy Jazz imprint, yet another casual dismissal of precise labels for a group that revels in creating lush sonic spaces big enough to get lost in but small enough to help bring you down from a night spent clubbing. A modest triumph.
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