Sounds like … Wilco, Iron & Wine, Beck, Over the Rhine, and other alt-pop principals with a flair for the acoustic.

At a glance … in only a couple of year's time, Judd & Maggie have gone from promising newcomers to artists with a keen sense of what they want in their artistry.

Some are heralding it as the future of music, but the pay-what-you-want business model can also be an utter pain. In the case of the fledgling, Derek Webb-backed, there's the beauty of being able to put a price tag on everything on the site, but the novelty comes at a price—the lack of background information on some of these acts is almost tantamount to rummaging through a bargain bin of nondescript items.

Granted, the system is still in its infancy, but it can work against an album like Judd & Maggie's Kingdom of Noise. The disc is eye-opening—bolder and more left-of-center than just about anything on the siblings' charming debut, 2005's Subjects. But without proper liner notes or even a simple write-up to go along with it, its freshness could easily fall through the cracks or, sadder still, on deaf ears.

Irrespective of this business model, Kingdom of Noise does shine on its own merits. The effort finds the brother-and-sister duo abandoning their next-door simplicity, downplaying their folk-pop instincts in favor of a more electronic, offbeat form of expression, not unlike the alt-pop leanings of Wilco, Iron & Wine, and even Films for Radio-era Over the Rhine.

For proof, look no further than the title track and "White Washed Tomb," each a trippy song rife with percussive guitars, handclaps, loops, and earnest backup vocalists—Beck could almost claim copyright infringement. It's an alluring mix, made all the more captivating by Judd and Maggie's crisscrossing harmonies, an effortless interplay that could only come from someplace fraternal.

For all the quirkiness, some tracks tend to recall the uncomplicated vibe of Subjects, like the jangly "Under My Roof," a breakup paean where Maggie asks a former lover to give her space. Equally conventional is "Not Enough," which doesn't do enough to distance itself from simpler, more commonplace coffeehouse offerings.

Thematically, the siblings appear to be painting a portrait of an unredeemed world, where failed relationships, unfulfilled promises, and self-interest rule the day. It may get bleak at times, but the pair does leave the door open for hope to shine through, as in "Hunger," where they emphasize that it's a void in the soul that leads us back to God.

It's not quite CCM fodder, but Kingdom of Noise is otherwise a telling indicator of Judd & Maggie's willingness to adapt and try new things in a music environment where the flavor of the moment is pretty much anyone's guess.

Kingdom of Noise
Our Rating
4 Stars - Excellent
Average Rating
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Release Date
January 6, 2009
High Wire Music
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