Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Singer/songwriter Mars continues to mine the sonic breakthrough he started with 2010’s Like a Bird, Like a Plane on this low key yet potent follow-up. Producer/guitarist Billy Harvey returns from the previous release as does most of that disc’s backing band, but Mars smartly sought out veteran Tchad Blake to mix this album. It’s dominated by gorgeous, never wimpy ballads that place Mars’ boyish, committed voice and reflective, sweetly tart tunes in an instrumentally spare but not stripped down setting. Incisive, economical songwriting helps but Blake, Harvey and Mars’ open arrangements are bolstered by percussion and keyboards that keep the spotlight on the songwriter’s tangy, often melancholy melodies. The songs, production and singing effortlessly complement each other on Mars’ fifth and finest set, yielding performances like the dreamy epic “Great Wall of China” (he compares it to love) that wrap themselves around the listener like a thick blanket on a cold night.