Patrick Watson Wooden Arms

With a Polaris Prize on their mantel, Patrick Watson's eponymous quartet returns with a quietly beautiful record. Teeming with ornately crafted concoctions, Wooden Arms merges disparate elements, expanding the combo's cabaret, neo-chamber pop sound. Haunting leadoff "Fireweed" moves from tender acoustic picking to a large, ethereal church-hymn, replete with choral backing vocals. Ornate instrumental "Down at the Beach" combines subtle baroque and chamber elements, while "Tracy's Waters" is a mélange of banjo plucks and scattered strings, falling somewhere between Mule Variations-era Tom Waits and Grizzly Bear. Deceptively, bait and switch standout "Big Bird in a Small Cage" begins with a simple metaphor and a familiar acoustic template yet grows into a jaunty, bluegrass-indebted number. It retains the opacity of its brethren but lightens the mood, becoming the sunniest song on an oft-melancholy record. Enchantingly sombre, though never in a Valium-invoking way, Wooden Arms is shimmering and pretty but never boring. (Secret City)