La Concorde Universe and Villa

Stephen Becker both loves and hates pop music. He adores what it can potentially be, yet despises the way it tends to be dumbed down for the sake of mass audiences. Naturally, he felt like he should do something about it and after cutting his teeth as part of the Chicago band, Post Office, Becker took some time off to complete a Ph.D. before forming an even more polished band with a similar philosophy when it comes to pop music. La Concorde are fans of Aztec Camera, Prefab Sprout and their ilk, writing lush pop songs that are both literate and intelligent. That means at times they do walk the line between clever and smug, but for the most part they manage to stay on the right side of the line. Universe and Villa, their debut album, features all six songs from their excellent demo EP and then adds seven more songs of varying quality. The best moments live up to the promise of the early recordings although some of the additions (such as "I Hate Rock and Roll”) do let down the side a little bit. Despite having a lushness, La Concorde know when to stop, and though there is a sheen, it doesn’t dazzle and distract from their pretty songs — they prefer acoustic guitars and keyboards to strings and it makes for the perfect accompaniment to Becker’s breathy vocals. Universe and Villa is timeless, smart pop that will appeal to even the most discriminating tastes. (March)