- - Monday, June 13, 2011

Lloyd Cole was a Top 40 artist for two decades, releasing a string of popular albums with the Commotions during the 1980s before launching a successful solo career in 1990. For the past decade, however, he’s enjoyed a much quieter career, often playing shows for his dedicated fans but rarely, if ever, occupying the spotlight.

“Broken Record,” his most recent album, shows just how dedicated Mr. Cole’s fans can be. Eager to make a record on his own terms, he took a page from Jill Sobule, his friend and fellow songwriter, by reaching out directly to his audience.

“I realized Jill Sobule was brassy enough to basically say to her fans, ‘Just give me money because I’m making a record,’ ” he explained earlier this month, several days before the launch of his American summer tour. “And her people did it. I ended saying something similar - ‘I’m gonna make a record, this is how I want to do it, and here’s the budget’ - because I realized that if we sold a number of deluxe editions before we even made the record, we could make the kind of record we wanted to.”

Forty percent of the recording budget wound up coming from Mr. Cole’s fans, 1,000 of whom shelled out $45 apiece during a presale. “Broken Record” was released overseas last year, with the American release following this May. Since then, the album has been earning some of the warmest reviews of his career.

“I always do a CD signing after each show,” Mr. Cole said, “and I’ve met a lot of people who donated to the record. It’s cool. I don’t think I executed the concept well myself - I had to take far more trips to the post office than would’ve been necessary, had I planned things out first - but it was a cool concept regardless.”

All Things Bright and Beautiful

Owl City

Universal Republic

Welcome to Owl City, a mythical place that resembles one of the cities in Disney’s “Fantasia.” The skies are green, the seas taste like fruit, and rockets launch themselves into the stratosphere every five minutes.

This is the world dreamt up by Adam Young, the 20-something architect behind Owl City’s electro-pop landscape.

Fans of the Postal Service, the short-lived side project co-founded by Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, will trace many of Mr. Young’s tricks back to that band, from the bubbling keyboards to the electronic noises that fizz and pop at random intervals. “All Things Bright and Beautiful” is unique unto itself, though; even the Postal Service would avoid music this syrupy sweet.

Sugar overload is the main problem. “All Things Bright and Beautiful,” the follow-up to Owl City’s platinum-selling 2009 release, “Ocean Eyes,” is a fine showcase for Mr. Young’s production skills, and he does a meticulous job ordering the components of each song - the zippy synthesizer hooks, the programmed percussion, the AutoTuned vocals - into swirling patterns of honey-coated pop. Most of the time, though, there’s very little at the center of these soft-boiled sweets.

Several songs stand out, particularly “Deer in the Headlights,” which sports a melody every bit as engaging as the production itself. It’s a buoyant, well-scrubbed club anthem - a sign that Owl City can deliver a meaty bite from time to time.

For every “Deer in the Headlights,” though, there’s a tune like “Alligator Sky,” which features an ill-advised rap by Shawn Chrystopher and a nonsensical title that follows the pattern of countless Owl City songs, from “Strawberry Avalanche” to “Vanilla Twilight.”

If these are the patterns Mr. Young chooses to repeat, someone kindly show us the road out of Owl City.

The Errant Charm

Vetiver

Sub Pop Records

The Golden State has seen its share of folk-rock icons, and Vetiver takes its cues from Jackson Browne, the Beach Boys and Gram Parsons on “The Errant Charm.”

Band leader and San Francisco resident Andy Cabic wrote much of the music while walking around his city’s Richmond District, and you can hear his laid-back gait in the album’s best songs, which move forward with casual purpose.

Consider “The Errant Charm” a part of your new summer playlist.

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