On Legerdemain, Duncan Sheik makes the opposite of roots music. That’s not to say that the sound he’s crafted here lacks any obvious forebears — everything from his well-known love for Nick Drake to the affection for synth-pop Sheik documented on his Covers ’80s album can be divined over the course of his eighth album. But an agreeably ungrounded feeling dominates the proceedings; even when a solid groove moors a track, Sheik’s melodies dart around with balletic agility that dares you to wonder when they’ll descend again.
The ambition and uncompromising nature of Legerdemain might seem shocking for an artist who started out as a pop star — Sheik’s career kicked off with the alt-pop hit “Barely Breathing” in 1996 — if not for the path he’s trod since then. Sheik’s time as a chart denizen was short-lived, and his output became increasingly adventurous in the years since. By 2002, he was working in musical theater, eventually finding major success with his show Spring Awakening. While Legerdemain‘s tunes bear relatively conventional pop-song structures, there’s liberation in the way they move that’s almost certainly informed by the expanded musical palette of Sheik’s theatrical compositions.
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