Album of the week

Singer Matthew E. White

Languid like Sunday morning ... Matthew E. White.

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

It's about 20 years since Beck Hansen on the American west coast, then Air from Versailles, slipped under the usual industry hurdles to present pop music with a series of questions masquerading as devilishly catchy songs.

In the recent past, the rise of what we now could call the Beck/Air generation brought a cohort of musicians who have grown up assuming those same questions already have answers: irony and sincerity are indistinguishable; pop and funk are not mutually exclusive; electronic and analog are companions; and the Atlantic is a carrier, not a barrier.

To CSS, Field Music, Kiwis the Phoenix Foundation, our own Parades and particularly Stepkids, you can add Matthew E. White.

Big Inner by Matthew E White.

Big Inner by Matthew E White.

Big Inner is a deliciously vague, deceptively meandering exploration of what once might have been described as the fringes but is in fact pop central for people who don't measure everything by BS - that is, on the Beyonce scale.

In the US, Europe and here, the album has been described as soul, country, Americana and rock - all of which are true and not true, but which offer some sense of its breadth and its ability to be so many things to so many people.

White's songs, played by drummer Pinson Chanselle (who sounds like he could have been in both Air and one of Beck's Scientology manuals with that name), bass player Cameron Ralston and the bearded man himself have some of the light narcotic haze of those nightclubs where the beautiful people loll about on the mezzanine level while the rest of us gaze up and wonder just what is in that long glass of something aquamarine.

The songs project a lot of low-impact grooves that mix funk and jazz without ever breaking into a hot sweat or wasting time noodling, though the angular breakout near the end of Hot Toddies reminds you that White knows a '70s that had as much Weather Report in it as post-Motown. This is the Virginian's urban spin, his northerner touch.

At the same time, there is something rustic and recycled in the down-home country ease and the matching gentle gospel. It's slower and a little more subtly sensual, a Sunday morning feel but one of languid stretching rather than any curled up with a post-party hangover. When the choirs come, they coo rather than soar; when the strings follow they brush rather than sweep grandly. And when White sings ''Jesus Christ is our lord/ Jesus Christ is your friend'' in Brazos, it's done with slinky invocation.

Big Inner may not proclaim its genius from any rooftops, but this may be one of the finer albums you'll hear this year.

MATTHEW E. WHITE

Big Inner

(Domino/EMI)