Imagine Ariel Pink if he stowed away with a travelling orchestra, and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Joe Medina sounds like. As MERCH, the San Franciscan writes pop songs that are unabashedly sappy and indebted to crooners of the highest caliber. But his sense of timing, ear for arrangements and apparent sincerity carry him a long way. His second album, Amour Bohemian, is one that charms rather than falling into grating territory.

Opener ‘Don’t Wait Too Long’ quickly demonstrates Medina as an actual craftsman. His reflections upon growing up are legitimately amusing. “All my friends say this loneliness goes with my path chosen,” he sings, after talking about how many of his friends from growing up seem to be running on fumes. The firecracker of a chorus has a great duality in which Medina’s falsetto sounds both anguished and gleeful.

This duality also comes through on ‘According to the Doctors’. After an opening that sounds like the kick-off to a news program circa 1975 and some crunchy guitars, Medina sings with a pleading tone, “Today we did something that to many would be nothing.” His voice gets smoother as he sings about “eating with indigenous tribes in New Guinea.” It actually sounds like he’s singing as two different people, not just shifting back and forth between different voices. The best duality of voices, however, comes when he shares them with another singer. Though Medina’s vocals are charming, he knows how and when they should be offset. On the lovely ‘Artist and the Muse’, a forlorn Medina mourns his lack of musical companionship. Then, Ricky Berger comes in. As she sings “From the window of my room, I can paint a city tonight,” it feels like two lost souls singing from their bedroom windows on a lonely evening.

There’s love permeating much of Amour Bohemian, which makes sense, given the title. Three consecutive songs practically form a suite with their names: ‘Two Hearts’, ‘Marriage,’ and ‘The Only Love I Understand’. There’s a certain non-specificity to it that works. Lyrics like “Two hearts beating together” and “Won’t you stay with me forever?” might seem Xeroxed from countless other love songs/poems/Pinterest posts, but Medina knows how cliched sentiments can be balanced with more striking ones that really catch your attention. He’s letting us get swept up into a Technicolor splendor, one that also features some lively guitar solos, and Medina bursting through with “I could never get by with a woman who didn’t try to cling onto me so crazy and hard that the pressure could make me die,” on ‘The Only Love I Understand’. It’s a wordy and unsettling verse that he nails the delivery of.

Amour Bohemian was recorded with roughly 65 people. In addition to Medina (who sings, and plays a variety of guitars), there are bassists, drummers, horn players, opera singers, and on most tracks, the Prague FILMharmonic Orchestra, whose greatest contribution might be the strings. All these additional players come through for Medina, adding further life to already winning songs, rather than trying to poke a dying beast. Sometimes, there are aspects I wish were more present, like the tense congas and timbales from Carlo Lopez and Joey de Leon, respectively, on ‘The Wine Will Flow’.

At nine songs, Amour Bohemian is rather lean. However, a sense of restraint can always be appreciated. This is an album that makes multiple great impressions at once, and a large part of it is due to Medina never seeming overbearing. It’s easy to get cynical about “throwback music,” because so often it’s about soullessly retreading old sounds. However, from beginning to end, Amour Bohemian is brimming with soul.