Sondre Lerche

Two Way Monologue (Astralwerks)

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Everything about 21-year-old Norwegian wunderkind Sondre Lerche is pinch-his-cheeks cute, from the way his name rolls off the tongue (SON-dreh LAIR-kee) to his baby-faced-gangster CD cover art and website musings about catching a Strokes gig ("How contemporary new wave am I?"). Even the acoustic guitars, strings, synths, and la-la-la's of Faces Down, his 2002 orchestrapop debut, were ridiculously endearing in the way their striking sophistication contrasted with his youthful air.

Lerche maintains the charms of Faces on Two Way Monologue, but the progression of his sound rivals the scrawny-geek-to-hot-hunk summer transformations rampant in adolescence. Monologue bursts with self-assurance: Warm, jangling riffs slide seamlessly into game-show-tacky synths on "On the Tower," electro bloops undermine the folksy gallop of the title track, and schmaltzy, waltzing strings match his lounge-singer-sans-smarm vocals on "It's Too Late." His debt to lush songwriters like Burt Bacharach is obvious -- and it's certainly not coincidental that "Wet Ground" rhymes with Pet Sounds -- but Lerche's guileless lyrical honesty trumps these comparisons.

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