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Review: Troye Sivan is as skilled as he is empathetic on 'Bloom'

Review: Troye Sivan is as skilled as he is empathetic on 'Bloom'
Troye Sivan's new album is "Bloom." (Kevin Winter / Getty Images)

Troye Sivan knows how great pop songs work.

He understands the emotional value of a soaring melody and the way an unexpected texture can refresh a listener’s weary ear.

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And as a lyricist he grasps the paradox that eludes so many songwriters: that the widespread relatability of a piece of music — the way it can make somebody, or millions of somebodies, feel like they’re being spoken to — increases in direct proportion to its specificity.

You can hear Sivan exercising all this knowledge on “Bloom,” the second studio album from this former child actor who grew up in Australia and established a following of his own with a YouTube vlog in which he came out when he was 18.

It’s there in the record’s thumping lead single, “My My My!,” where he pushes his voice upward in just the right way as he tells a lover that he’s “living for your every move.” And it’s there in the robot-choir backing vocals floating over the strum of an acoustic guitar in “The Good Side.”

In “Postcard,” Sivan, who’s now 23, tells a familiar story of unrequited affection but deploys enough detail to make it newly believable. You’ve been there, you think as he sings over a rolling piano figure, even if you’ve never had someone ignore the postcard you wrote (in Japanese) from Tokyo.

Recorded with a crew of talented producers including Ariel Rechtshaid, Bram Inscore and Oscar Görres — crafty studio wizards known for tracks that feel modern and classic at the same time — “Bloom” stands rightly to expand the cult-sized audience Sivan developed with his 2015 debut, “Blue Neighbourhood.” (He’s already getting help from no less a booster than Taylor Swift, who invited him onstage at the Rose Bowl in May to do “My My My!”)

Yet as easy as it should be for anyone to appreciate this thrilling and sincere record — truly, there’s no resisting the title track’s euphoric refrain — what might be most admirable about it is Sivan’s determination to make a particular group feel seen.

“I just want to provide for a young audience what I felt was lacking when I was a kid,” he recently told Time, “which was representation of someone living their life.”

Gay kids have found themselves in pop music by straight stars for decades, of course. And pop has always been filled with writers and performers of every sexual identity — one reason the form has historically evolved faster than any other mass medium.

But Sivan is poised to enter the Top 40 mainstream as a novel figure: an openly gay man with no use for the type of coding that earlier artists (like, say, Sam Smith just a few years ago) were compelled to use in an effort to avoid alienating some portion of their audience.

“My boy like a queen / Unlike one you’ve ever seen,” Sivan sings in “Lucky Strike,” with both bliss and pride clearly audible in his breathy singing. “He knows how to love me better / A hit of dopamine, higher than I’ve ever been.”

“Seventeen,” the album’s deeply tender opener, describes a complicated hook-up with an older man in language that sounds free of the burden of upholding someone else’s standards: “Maybe a little too young, but it was real to me / And in the heat of the night, saw things I’d never seen.”

“Bloom” closes with the pretty and slow-moving “Animal,” in which the singer offers “an ode to the boy I love” and looks toward a future in which they’ll “build a home for two.”

It’s a simple image. But imagine encountering it as someone who’s trained himself to read between the lines while listening to the radio.

Or don’t. Sivan is good enough — as skilled as he is empathetic — that he’s still sure to get you.

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Troye Sivan

“Bloom”

(Capitol/EMI Australia)

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