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Cousteau specializes in the kind of delightful, carefully nuanced, perfectly produced cheese only Brits can get away with. There's nothing particularly maritime about their sound, though their name (a tribute to the legendary French oceanographer) might suggest otherwise; rather, the group's rich chamber pop suggests a spacious, airy world above the clouds, a celestial garden of delights eternally suffused with golden light. Like fellow Brit bands The Divine Comedy and Tindersticks, Cousteau is unashamed of its penchant for melodrama, unabashed by its perfectionist production, and unconcerned about coming across as overly literate or obtuse. The god of literate baroque pop, the incomparable Scott Walker, is the obvious antecedent to this kind of music, as is, to a lesser extent, Walker's muse, French cabaret-pop great Jacques Brel. If you're a devoted indie rocker weaned on lo-fi slanted 'n' enchanted irony, your first response to the band's velveteen piano- and strings-driven pop and to Irish vocalist Liam McKahey's languid basso croon will probably be to turn up your nose and turn it off, but you'll be cheating yourself if you do. This is deliciously lush and often poignant stuff, however fruity.

The quintet, the brainchild of Beirut-born songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Davey Ray Moor, debuted in 1999 with an eponymous EP. That release shot them into the spotlight, but the band wasn't happy with it and re-recorded most of the tracks for their self-titled 2000 LP on Palm. That album is where you'll find the jazzy, horn-filled, Walkerish "Last Good Day of the Year." The success of their debut made the group's 2002 follow-up, Sirena, one of the year's most eagerly anticipated records. The group did not disappoint, showing a further mastery of their craft with another solid round of songs marked by oozing, sultry melodies, baroque instrumentation, and smoky atmospherics. Again you can feel the influence of Walker, Burt Bacharach, and perhaps early Pulp, though Cousteau's music doesn't have that breathless Jarvis Cocker-style desperation. Singer McKahey's smirking croon makes the album's single "Talking to Myself" another winner in the vein of "Last Good Day."

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