The last time Tift Merritt released an album of sunny California soft rock (2008’s “Another Country’’), it was low-key and perhaps a little disappointing. This time, there are moments of eye-opening wonder. The result of diminished expectations or an indication that Merritt has worked out the kinks? Maybe both, but the strengths of “See You on the Moon’’ are real and not simply relative to its predecessor. There’s none of the timidity of “Another Country.’’ In its own quiet way, “Engine to Turn,’’ with its gentle, insistent ringing and Merritt’s clear, soothing voice, is rather forceful, crackling with energy that stems from her knowing exactly what she wants to say. The same holds true for “Mixtape,’’ where she combines disco strings, muffled guitar hacks and handclaps. The sprung “Live Till You Die’’ could be Big Star, while “Papercut’’ is sultry and wounded like Lucinda Williams. That’s a comparison that’s dogged Merritt since her debut, but with “See You on the Moon,’’ she’s coming awfully close to approaching Williams not as an acolyte but as an equal. (Out now) MARC HIRSH
ESSENTIAL “Engine to Turn’’
Tift Merritt performs at the Paradise Rock Club on June 19.