Psych-pop practitioner, blue eyeliner fan, and reigning indie-pop weirdo Luke Steele counts George Harrison, Walt Disney, and Woody Guthrie, among others, as his influences. The scary part? You can actually hear these disparate inspirations skipping across the surface of The Sleepy Jackson’s lysergic, widescreen sophomore effort Personality (One Was a Spider, One Was a Bird). Having bowed in 2003 with the acclaimed Lovers, Australian singer-songwriter Steele (The Sleepy Jackson is largely a revolving cast of collaborators) spent the next two years laboring over the follow-up album, a work every bit as off-kilter and rapturously gorgeous as its predecessor. If anything, Personality is a bigger, bolder, more vivid album; the burden of expectation seems to have lit a fire underneath Steele, whose striking pop songs leap from the speakers, cascading layered, hushed vocals and cotton candy instrumentation. Effortlessly beautiful and dazzling in its ambitious glory, the pretentiously titled album is nevertheless a dense, rewarding confection that often feels like Brian Wilson on Ecstasy—the highlights abound, dappled with sunshine and surrealism. “Work Alone” soars on a Steele falsetto, while “Devil Was In My Yard” plays around with Isaac Brock-worthy lyrical opacity. Personality pushes all the same buttons as The Flaming Lips or Grandaddy, delivering the thinking man’s summer jam with “I Understand What You Want But I Just Don’t Agree” (no, it doesn’t have the titular brevity of fellow summer jam “Promiscuous”). The Sleepy Jackson are an oddball treat for those who want their pop music to color outside the lines. Steele has triumphed with this trippy, sprawling second record—should the masses unearth this quirky gem, rest assured that many more ears will be attuned to what comes next.
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