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Cat Power: Sun (Matador) 

Sun is a thoroughly modern and occasionally thrilling record, yet it's one that also feels forced, as if someone handed Chan Marshall an assignment to make a synth-and-beat-heavy album.

click to enlarge CD3.jpg

That she pulls it off, in her own charmingly peculiar way, is a testament to Marshall's songwriting, but along the way, there remains a nagging sense that she's purposefully playing against her musical strengths.

The album's best moments are the ones least reliant on the synth-and-beats framework, like opener "Cherokee," with its hazy, shimmering guitar accents; "Manhattan," with its chiming piano core and seductive vocals; and the driving electric-guitar riffs of "Peace and Love."

Though it stretches to nearly 11 minutes, "Nothin but Time" is a cohesive, meditative celebration of independence and self-direction. It's also one of Sun's most-melodic tracks, though it oddly calls on Iggy Pop's rough edges to balance out her soothing vocals.

On her covers projects, Marshall tackled songs with a transformative authority, truly owning others' material. It may be the strain of such a stylistic shift, but on Sun, to some degree, she seems to approach her own songs like a foreigner.

The heart, sincerity and soulfulness that made 2006's The Greatest such a compelling listen are largely missing from its follow-up. And while it's bravely provocative for Marshall to make such an effort to confound those expectations, the result is more of an interesting detour than an album to embrace.

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