Le Concorde is Chicago’s Stephen Becker, and his debut full-length is a benign collection of indie and chamber pop. Not that Universe and Villa is boring or dull – there are some fantastic melodies and hooks sprinkled over the record. Almost every song has at least one standout moment – try the super-catchy chorus of “Little Stabs at Happiness” or the alt-rock fuzz in “It’s the Minor Chords that Kill You.” But an album that takes this few chances also has little opportunity to win big.
Becker’s warm, welcoming voice has a great range and calls to mind folks like E, James Iha, and Ben Folds. Musically, Le Concorde’s closest contemporary kin include the Magnetic Fields and Belle and Sebastian.
The record’s greatest quality is that it’s always changing. Its 13 songs rarely get complacent; thankfully, they avoid the indie pop pitfall of splish-splashing around in a warm bath of strings and synth. Becker keeps his tunes continually moving from one place to the next with changes in tempo, volume, and structure. His lyrics are also varied and multi-dimensional, exuding wonder here and pessimism there. The album’s last song, “I Hate Rock and Roll,” solidifies Becker’s sensibilities with some bitter humor: “I don’t mind planes / I don’t mind press / I hate the stupid way you rip your heart out of your chest / I hate rock and roll.”
Universe and Villa is not a great album, but a fine pop record with enough peaks to keep the valleys intriguing. Often, that’s all you need. Take off your thinking cap and just enjoy.