From the swampy, shambled, drunken, broken, blues- and jazz festridden streets of New Orleans comes the most romantic, stately, and, hell, best band to come out of the South since R.E.M. On its second full-length, World Leader Pretend keeps its influences in its pockets (not on its sleeve) as it delivers an arresting lineup of soulful, ragged, piano-battering ballads. Aside from singer Ferguson's balls-out frontmanship (gasps and whispers, solid belting, attempts at a falsetto that's sadly above his range), the instrumentation is Herculean for a band so young, juxtaposing hotel-room trashers with sleigh bellsandpiano interludes off the soundtrack to a lost Wes Anderson Christmas caper. But damn it if it isn't too much. Almost all the songs try to be staggering, dynamic masterpieces, which leads to a misleading impression of sameness. But in a retro-obsessed, masturbatory-indie-diluted market, a band that crams too many muscular, sonorous, earnest, and ambitious songs on a single record hardly warrants complaint. -- Jason Harper
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