Influenced in equal measure by both sides of the street and the top and bottom of the charts, Richard Papiercuts’ “IF” sets a new standard for ambitious pop music on a shoestring budget. Meticulously recorded throughout New York City over the course of a turbulent year, Papiercuts & co. traffic in shades of light and dark. Like a master of ceremonies at an underground cabaret, Papiercuts — a mystery man of uncertain origin and pedigree — is an expert guide to the many quandaries of a modern metropolitan existence. “IF” is unafraid to explore a complex inner life rife with anxiety and doubt, yet reveling in the sensual pleasures only the contemporary cityscape can provide. “IF” is the ultimate marriage of subversive, underground sensibilities and classic songwriting craftsmanship silhouetted on a larger-than-life canvas. This music encompasses an ordinary life played out in widescreen. We are all our own celluloid heroes, Papiercuts seems to be telling us. Embrace your starring role, be your biggest fan. “How It Really Begins” opens the album as an interruption — the band in mid-rock-out — a throbbing pulse peppered with sudden starts and stops, used here not as demonstrations of musical prowess, but as building blocks of tension. Papiercuts’ deep voice walks a thin line between utter sincerity and gentle mocking — here used to excellent effect as the band engages in a sort of stately post-punk, all jagged propulsion and knowing winks. “How It Really Begins” is a suitably thrilling beginning to the masterful new album by enigmatic troubadour Richard Papiercuts. “Bull and Cup Relax” is a slowly twisting trip through latter-day psychpop, an update on Tears For Fears’ update on The Beatles. Future smash “Peanut Butter Is Back” features an instant hook that could be chanted by cheerleaders or groups of school children. Viral YouTube videos are waiting in the wings for this one…. Dousing cocaine dreams in cascades of champagne, “The Sorrow Of Faith” is a late-night lament that summons decadent images of 1980s excess — an attempt to maintain an unsustainable harem, and no amount of silk pillows will cushion the inevitable fall. Bryan Ferry is on the phone right now, asking his manager why nobody has brought him a song this good in years. “The Sorrow OF Faith” works perfectly as both reflecting pool and enticing come-on — it is the hand that reaches out from the darkness to clasp your own. “Twelve Days” is a beautiful pop-psych gem that gleams like The Byrds covering The Velvet Underground. The song tries to hide its darkness from you, but it is unmistakably present in the gently roiling verses. “They Tried To Change Me” taps back into Richard Papiercuts’ aggressive side, utilizing sheets of guitars and a pounded piano to air its complaints. “Now I’ve Found You” leans hard into its romantic overtures, but allows them to include family into its lovefest. “Tired Of Playing The Drums” is some kind of funhouse mirror take on a Dire Straits or Don Henley ‘80s chestnut. It shouldn’t work, but it does, and how. The smoldering Papercuts of “Personality” is the smoothest talker at the bar, and you can’t resist his charms; the music swooning and swelling along with you. After such an eventful journey, “Manhattanville” is the perfect endpoint, its deadpan coda telling us that “Life is only so long.” Richard Papiercuts is adult music made by adult adults. “IF” is an album that harkens back to the old world of Brecht and Weill, Bowie and Cale — and is surely one of 2015’s boldest musical statements.