Short Cuts

Heather Duby, Shivaree

Heather Duby
Post to Wire
(Sub Pop)

Singer Heather Duby has one of those haunting, ethereal voices that makes everything she sings just a little bit melodramatic. On Post to Wire,Duby's debut longplayer, love and loss are frequent topics. The accompanying music, however -- cowritten with producer Steve Fisk -- is airy, often bordering on dance music. The mix of Duby's melodrama and Fisk's airiness is not surprising given the latter's pedigree as a producer-remixer and half of Pigeonhed, a band known for its own particular brand of electronic soul. But the record also owes a sonic debt to the 4AD record label, with its lofty, lush atmospherics and Duby's just-shy-of-Cocteau Twins voice.

Still there's a lot that's original on Post to Wire. Duby and Fisk craft tracks that walk the line between pop songs and musical wallpaper. While Duby relies more on studio technology than Sarah McLachlan does, these songs nonetheless share a similar otherworldliness and expressive vocal style with the Lilith Fair founder's music. The disc also brings to mind the dance records that Everything but the Girl has recently begun to create, but the beats are much less intrusive, more sparse and diffuse.

What's impressive about Post to Wire is the way that the 25-year-old Duby manages to remain the calm focus despite the torrents of sound that wash over her. On the sultry, groovy-bass opener, "Judith," she's burning with anticipation, singing in a thin, drawn-out whisper. Even as the low end distorts, the drums grow more insistent, and her voice echoes around her, Duby maintains a cool composure. Based on a simple piano-and-guitar vamp -- buried under static -- "A Healthy Fear of Monsters" comes off like a waltz from the past, and Duby sings with restraint, her voice rising in pitch, not volume.

Toward the end of the record, the music gets more adventurous. Using mellotrons and reverberating world-beat percussion that are frequently louder than Duby's voice, "Halo Sky" is nine minutes of placid floating. On the slightly drum 'n' bass-ish closer, "Amygdala," her voice is blurred by echo while watery synthesizers and the quick-paced snare step off into dub breaks. The song ends with Duby singing a cappella, fading out as she holds a single note. Bringing the focus back to her voice is the perfect way to close a record that nicely balances chilled-out beats with Duby's remarkable vocal talents. -- David Simutis


Shivaree
I Oughtta Give You a Shot in the Head For Making Me Live in This Dump
(Capitol/Odeon)

It's always a good sign when you don't know what label to attach to a new band. When it comes to Shivaree, a trio fronted by a singer with the unlikely handle Ambrosia Parsley, I'm at a total loss. The drum loops have a syncopated hip-hop edge, the melodies are emotive pop, and the instrumentation is, well, pure circus mayhem. Pump organs, pennywhistles, trumpets, strings…. What I can say about this debut, the charming title of which I will not repeat here for space reasons, is that it's the most strangely mesmerizing disc I've heard in months.

I Oughtta was recorded largely in the back yard of fellow iconoclast Joe Henry, and the 12 tracks here have the same country-croon-meets-urban-groove sensibility that has distinguished Henry's recent work. "Arlington Girl" opens with a gravelly percussive line. The tinkling of Danny McGough's piano delivers the rudiments of a melody, which Parsley's sleepy alto fleshes out. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, other sounds join the fray: a distant, howling wind, what might be an accordion, an organ imported straight from "Penny Lane." The result is as much a haunted house as a song.

"Goodnight Moon" is a playful bossa nova propelled by Duke McVinnie's deliciously sinister bass line. A few songs later his wiry guitar work pumps up the funk ditty "Pimp," which paints a droll portrait of your average Los Angeles working stiff. Parsley's voice, which can sometimes seem a bit burred at the edges amid McGough and McVinnie's sonic tomfoolery, takes center stage on "I Don't Care," a bluesy vamp set primarily to steel guitar and trumpet. Her voice is pure sex and Valium here with enough tragedy mixed in to call to mind Patsy Cline.

I Oughtta has a deceptively loose feel. Its loopy, atmospheric songs don't scream and whine for attention. But, as in all good cons, there's a kind of subtle hypnosis at work. By which I mean: I haven't taken the disc off my player for three weeks now. -- Steve Almond

 
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