Marianne Nowottny

Illusions of the Sun (Camera Obscura)

The most capable vocalist of her generation, Marianne Nowottny has a technique that can only be described by such words as "otherworldly" or "luminous." Accompanying herself on a variety of keyboards, and maintaining a cherubically aloof presence, she is known as the mystical moon goddess of the post-everything avant-garde. Illusions of the Sun does little to dispel that belief.

Several songs here are re-recorded repeats from her back-catalog. The new versions are in no way identical to the earlier ones. Take "Rainy Days and Vinyl," originally recorded on the landmark two-record set, Manmade Girl, which was released in 2001. This version showcases Nowottny's latent jazz impulses; her vocals have always been compared to the great '60s avant-garde chanteuse Patty Waters, but on this track, even her piano playing is reminiscent of the kind of contrapuntal keyboarding that marked the free-jazz movement. "Mustard Seed," originally on her first LP, Afraid of Me, also showcases her increasing vocal range with an absolutely chilling display of over-the-top vocalizations, all to the tune of a wheezing toy keyboard.

"Grey City," also originally from her first LP, is turned into another powerful dirge, highlighted by Nowottny's increasingly impressive piano skills. "Figment" is a semiclassical excursion with extremely lyrical harpsichord playing. But the most amazing track is "Sweet and Low," in which Marianne takes it to the hilt with an absolutely mind-shattering display of vocal chord elucidation, stretching octaves that Captain Beefheart -- not to mention Yoko Ono -- only dreamed of.

 
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