"We Will Become Like Birds"

Nettwerk America

Several songs on Erin McKeown's fourth album, "We Will Become Like Birds," describe the universal wish to escape gravity and soar above the messy problems on the Earth's surface. "I am made to fly," she declares on "Air," the song that provides the album's title; she proclaims we should establish "Life on the Moon" or head "To the Stars." "You're so pretty floating through the air," she tells a lover on "Float," and adds, "Don't land."

The lyrics may express the wish, but it's the music that fulfills it. Once pigeonholed as a folkie singer-songwriter, McKeown has evolved into an alt-pop composer who resembles Rilo Kiley and Bettie Serveert more than Dar Williams. McKeown co-produced the new album with Tucker Martine, who has worked with such artists as Modest Mouse and Bill Frisell, and they create a soundscape where the bubbly keyboards and the restless guitar progressions create harmonies that ascend above the nervous push-and-pull of the rhythm section below.

The messy problems being left behind concern a broken relationship; "the fireworks say it's over," she sings on "Bells and Bombs." But the songs focus not on the breakage but on the recovery; their optimism is buoyed by the lovely melodies and expansive harmonies. One wishes this Brown graduate's lyrics were less clever; when she sings a bilingual song, she does so in English and Latin, and her diction resembles elliptical constructs rather than actual conversation. When her words become as emotional as her music, she may well become a major pop figure.

-- Geoffrey Himes

Appearing Friday at Iota.

Broken relationships can't keep Erin McKeown down on her new CD.