As a touring member of R.E.M., a late-era member of Big Star and a co-leader (with his friend Jon Auer) of the defunct Seattle power-pop band the Posies, singer/songwriter/producer/multi-instrumentalist Ken Stringfellow's got nothing to prove in the capable-of-crafting-a-catchy-hook department. So on Soft Commands, his third solo album, he doesn't really worry about crafting them, focusing instead on displaying his compositional range and couching his tunes in the kind of sophisticated arrangements that always end up seducing great popsmiths. Sometimes that's enough: "Don't Die" is a galloping Phil Spector pastiche full of trebly guitar fuzz and skyscraping strings; "When U Find Someone" climaxes in a wave of creamy Beach Boys harmonies; "For Your Sake" sounds like Radiohead forced to play inside a tiny coat closet. But Commands is a little soft in other places, like "Known Diamond," which channels Ryan Adams channeling Bob Dylan.
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