Chicago loves its sweet, sprawling pop bands. From transplants Poi Dog Pondering to the natives of the Scotland Yard Gospel Choir, or even Michigan visitors the Great Lakes Myth Society, somehow we make these big bands feel at home on often tiny stages. This summer, the cheerful half-dozen souls in Canasta return with a sophomore set that cements the sunny ambition that shone on its debut EP ("Find the Time," 2004) and album ("We Were Set Up," 2005).
Take the title however you want. Maybe the EP was the fakeout, the first album was the tease and this finely honed, controlled but still somehow breezy album is the breather. Those words also accurately describe the self-contained trilogy of the opening track, "Becoming You" -- an organ-buoyed opening switches to a piano-based ballad swirled with singer Matt Priest's quivery Neil Tennant-at-the-cabaret voice, before exhaling through a positively Sufjanriffic breakdown, complete with spunky piano and languid violins. The tone is set for an album of open-air chamber pop that sounds like it wants to go haywire (and become a mess) but has been expertly subdued and shaped and is thus sublime.
Another controlled burn is the romantic ramble of "I Don't Know Where I Was Going With This." Mulling over the life signs of a new love, Priest ponders, "We swore if the spark expired / we'd bury this without a service / It's possible that's transpired / I thought I'd know, but I'm getting nervous." His nerves hum in the synthesizer underneath the tune, which buzzes like summer evening bugs. In the end, the bugs and the band swarm in a swelling conclusion as the title is repeated and repeated, the confusion growing and growing, then dropping out and leaving the male and female voices to question each other in near darkness. Pop rarely sounds this warm and natural when it's this intricately composed.
In concert: See Canasta live June 13 at the Andersonville, or June 23 at Lincoln Hall.