Josh Rouse is a poet of the pause, the conversational moment of silence that often transmits clearer information than the exchange of words surrounding it. His subtlety and understatement augment the noise crackling across the quiet between people. On his third album, Under Cold Blue Stars, Rouse broadens his sonic explorations of intense stillness and awkward reticence with assured delicacy. Synthesized strings, breezy keyboards and tape loops accompany the already rich guitars, bass and drums upon which Rouse's music usually rests; yet his careful incorporation of the new elements spreads the music out rather than cluttering it. Moving through the well-crafted lushness, Rouse sings with focused, naturalistic languor, voicing his lyrics as though they were thoughts that had just occurred to him. He excels at giving plain words an incisive emotional twist with a slight crack in a high note or a hoarse, edgy whisper in an otherwise smooth melody. Rouse avoids underlining these vocal imperfections, and his lyrics convey hints and episodes rather than statements and full stories. Under Cold Blue Stars is essentially about love, and requited love at that, but Rouse's open-ended songwriting leaves the same narrative gaps that invited listeners to delve into his previous albums, Dressed Up Like Nebraska (1998) and Home (2000). And his music remains so alluring that it's possible to engage him as if he were actually in the room. The summer-twilight R&B of the title track, the warm echoes in the strumming guitars of "Miracle", and the vibes-enhanced lullaby of "The Whole Night Through" don't make a place for the listener; they are a place for the listener. At once familiar and unlike everything else, raw but somehow comforting, Under Cold Blue Stars says what can normally be heard only when no one is talking.