Sam Roberts Chemical City

Three years and one platinum album later, Sam Roberts has returned with his most ambitious album to date. On Chemical City, the bewhiskered Montrealer has fine-tuned his Can rock instincts, creating a bevy of pseudo-psychedelic rockers and making significant improvements over his first full-length effort, We Were Born in a Flame. Don’t worry, the two discs aren’t drastically different — there are still plenty of roots-y rhythms, and boisterous guitar work — but Roberts’ ideas are far more fleshed out then ever before. "Bridge to Nowhere,” Chemical City’s best song, proves just how far Roberts has come. It’s soothing, acoustic psych-pop, that, unlike most of his previous effort, feels as if he actually put some blood and sweat into this disc. The Sloan-ish "An American Draft Dodger In Thunder Bay,” is sure to be another crowd pleaser. Besides being damn catchy, its anti-war theme keeps Roberts’ liberalism on message — although it would have been more poignant if he sung about America’s current predicament instead of Vietnam. Really, the only major drawback to this disc is the Yes-esque artwork, and the band photo, but if it takes staring at Roberts in a Kimono to relate to the 100,000 fans who bought his first record, then so be it. (Universal)