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Neil Halstead

The twilight-saturated folk-pop of Neil Halstead is a pleasure to listen to, even if, like soy products, his music diminishes manhood and makes dudes feel twee--especially when their girlfriends bust them spinning Halstead's latest, Oh! Mighty Engine, in the car stereo. That's OK, since the English singer/songwriter possesses the ability to craft unforgettable songs with little more than an acoustic guitar.

The jaunty yet melancholy title track, in which the speaker observes a girl tapping out her novel on a typewriter, revels in the odd power of creativity. She "says the plot is getting stranger / It's taken over / And the hero's run away / And no one told her / But she can't control the page." "Little Twig," meanwhile, is a paean to carefree beauties clattering around town on dingy bicycles that sound "like a can of nails on an angel's tail," another example of Halstead's sad lyricism married to bubbly pop.

Sure, there are a few surprises, like the keyboard riff and canned drum beat of "Always the Good" and the flamenco-inspired chords of "Paint a Face." But it's only when Halstead focuses on his lyrics that a song like "No Mercy for the Muse" can manage to wrench the heart by posing questions to an artist's lady of inspiration: "Does your golden hair fall in waves? / No mention of a spot / tantrum or tooth rot?" Oh! Mighty Engine is spotless and perfectly capped, too.

Enjoy it while grilling a steak, though.

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