Lee Feldman subtitled his fourth album Trying to Put the Things Together That Never Been Together Before, which might read like a Fiona Apple-esque prank if it didn’t fit so well — not only as a description of these songs, but as a manifesto for Feldman’s recording career, which has found him restlessly deconstructing and reassembling pop music’s tired machinery with a hobbyist’s enthusiasm and genius skill.
It isn’t exactly mainstream stuff, in other words — and although Feldman isn’t aiming for left field, he can’t help himself; if you prefer your music spoon-fed in bite-size chunks, you’re liable to be put off by the lurching melody and mad operatic dashes of the title track. But that’s your loss, because you’ll miss out on the second track, “Halo,” which proves Feldman can write a damn fine straightforward pop tune when the mood suits him.
Of course, “Halo” quickly yields to further flights of Feldman fancy, with titles like “Trees Are People Too” and “Subtle Flagellating Pulse Baby in a Christian Fabric Memory Dress” — but spend enough time with him and you start to speak his language, a curious but undeniably affecting lexicon that might seem like random babblings from afar, but really springs from one of the deeper and more empathetic songwriting voices of his generation. There’s room for quirk, but it isn’t employed for quirk’s sake; it’s all in service of Feldman’s vulnerability, gift for melody, and wandering artistic spirit.
Case in point: “I Remember the Night,” which comes a mere three tracks before the stomping beat and random outbursts of “Pulse Baby,” and recounts — in hushed, warmly melodic fashion — childhood memories of a marriage breaking up. It’s vintage Lee Feldman — a near-universal story told with singular compassion. His clear, childlike voice reinforces his protagonists’ good intentions even as it belies his sophisticated musical vocabulary. It can be mildly disorienting, as on the woozily hypnotic “Empty Room,” or subversive, as on “Hamfest,” or simply heartbreaking. It all depends where Feldman wants to take you.
With Album No. 4, he’s taking listeners to newly assured heights, acting as a friendly guide through territory that might seem alien at first, but quickly reveals the comforts of home. Long may he put the things together.