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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.

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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.

More by Eric Swedlund

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