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Sondre Lerche 

Faces Down (Astralwerks)

Call him precocious or wise beyond his years, but Sondre Lerche is hardly your typical 19-year-old songwriter. While most barely legal bards are likely to bang out three-chord tunes about girls, drugs, and the burden of being perennially misunderstood, Lerche has come up with a collection of luxurious, grown-up pop songs.

Armed with a velvety tenor that infuses his lyrics with an almost off-putting sense of calm, Lerche employs reference points that are familiar staples of Anglo-American folk and rock -- Nick Drake, the Velvet Underground, and Leonard Cohen. Sean O'Hagan, of Stereolab and High Llamas fame, adds buoyancy to the proceedings via his airy string arrangements, and his characteristic space-lounge style makes a perfect fit for Lerche's own predilection for Brazilian pop, cool psychedelia, and the Beach Boys' sunny shine.

On Faces Down, Lerche moves from the guileless, string-and-guitar balladry that marked Drake's Five Leaves Left to a vision of garagey power pop the Strokes wish they could pull off. The latter group once asked, Is This It?; Lerche's record provides the answer: This is it, one of the year's most affecting and endearing albums.

More by Phillip Sherburne

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