When Michael Shepard sings, even broken legs sound beautiful. His is a boyish lilt that could float on water. At times, the Lovedrug frontman's voice quivers like a toddler's lower lip; at others, it sounds like a daydream becoming a nightmare. Shepard is the entry point to Lovedrug's pretty, progressive pop. Backed by steel-wool guitar and snarled rhythms, he brings a sense of immediacy to a band prone to artful indulgence and tales of cold hearts and mangled limbs, which helps Lovedrug strike an increasingly elusive balance between commercial sheen and critical acclaim. That middle ground has been trod before by the likes of Radiohead and Queen, groups from which the Canton, Ohio, quartet took cues on its 2004 album, Pretend You're Alive. An album of pleading melody and nimble hooks that are instantly accessible, Alive ranges from delicate, papier-mâché ballads to sweaty rock exorcisms. At the same time, it's a work of texture and nuance, whose breadth seems to double with headphones on.


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