Singer and guitarist David Kilgour has been zigzagging between spontaneity and polish at least since 1981, when his band the Clean–an on-again, off-again group that then consisted of his drummer brother, Hamish, and bassist Robert Scott–broke into the top 20 in their native New Zealand with their debut single, “Tally Ho!” The Clean spent 50 dollars recording that jittery shotgun marriage of Beach Boys effervescence and Velvet Underground grit, cramming everything onto eight tracks in a single day, and on their 2001 album, Getaway (Merge), Kilgour and company are still cleaving to the principle summed up by the title of one of their first songs, “Anything Could Happen”–the disc veers from lighthearted off-the-cuff pop and woozy psychedelia to lazy, written-in-their-sleep instrumentals. As a solo artist, on the other hand, Kilgour employs a very different MO: since the early 90s he’s been taking his yearning, jangly tunes into the studio, sometimes for weeks at a time, and burnishing them until they glow. But recently he installed a 24-track studio in his home, and as he worked on his latest disc, A Feather in the Engine (Merge), he was able to enjoy the advantages of both approaches–he could record the bare bones of a song whenever inspiration struck, then dress them up at his leisure. Jubilant synthesized trumpet and intricately braided vocal lines catapult the graceful melody of “Today Is Gonna Be Mine” aloft; splintered, reverberant electric guitar leads interlace with jaunty piano figures on “I Lost My Train”; and lush strings wreathe the global-warming lament “Instra 2 Reprise.” On “Wooden Shed” Kilgour’s lilting voice creates the illusion that he’s savoring the five-word lyric for the first time, despite the gorgeous (and clearly labor-intensive) web of churchy organ and fingerpicked acoustic guitar that he’s woven around the tune. I’d be thrilled if someone bettered A Feather in the Engine this year, but I’m not holding my breath; this is the purest, loveliest pop music I’ve heard in a very long time. On Kilgour’s rare visits to Chicago, he usually has some of his compatriots in tow, but this time he’ll be backed by members of Lambchop–whose cast of thousands should enable him to effectively realize his new songs onstage. He’ll also join Lambchop during their headlining set. Saturday, March 9, 10 PM, Abbey Pub, 3420 W. Grace; 773-478-4408. BILL MEYER