So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness is hardly a leap into Jimmy Eat World-style pop emo (check that wildly cheerful album title, for one thing), but Joan of Arc’s fourth studio album is a huge change from 2000’s deliberately “difficult” release, The Gap. Where that album took leader/sole constant member Tim Kinsella’s penchant for post-rock experimentalism way, way over the top, the comparatively subdued So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness is a much more streamlined affair. The songs take at most one or two unexpected left turns each, and even songs like the spiky “Hello Goodnight Good Morning Goodbye” and the dissonant, quirky “Diane Cool and Beautiful” (which sounds like it could have come from an early Soft Machine album) have a less opaque feel to their lyrics than before. It’s not necessarily a pretty album — the centerpiece, “Mr. Participation Billy,” is a bizarre, piano-based waltz with freakishly violent lyrics crooned in the most deadpan voice — but on songs like the surprisingly catchy and straightforward “The Infinite Blessed Yes” and the halting but delicately lovely “Madelleine Laughing,” Joan of Arc sounds like the band is at least considering the idea of an audience beyond the confines of post-rock’s artistic ghetto. And rather than being a sellout, So Much Staying Alive and Lovelessness is the group’s finest creation yet.

Record Label: