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Laika is the black-clad goth girl you sat next to in high school geometry. She scribbles poetry on the soles of her concert-worn combat boots. Black nail polish is never absent from her unkempt, nibbled nails. She wears a nose ring on the weekends. She's slightly pretentious, almost sincere in her iconoclastic mantras and pensively dark mood. Her teachers know she's smart, but if only she would drop the whole apocalyptic-outcast act!

Still, Laika is cool to have around at parties. She doesn't stand out more than you want her to; when she's noticed, people think she's pretty hip. The preps don't understand her, but sometimes you see where she's coming from. Lately she's been dressing better too. Freshman year she was all about her image, but by junior year she's loosened up a bit and now fronts a pretty cool jazz-hop band. People find it hard to describe her band's music: It's not quite electronica, not even near rock. It's melodic but trippy, with rain forest rhythms and this warm, sweet, hazy vibe. The Rhodes organ she plays has a great '70s lounge sound, and the rest of the music strikes just the right balance between urban (turntable, Moog, samples, and loops) and primal (conga, flute, and sogo) rhythms. She must listen to a lot of Can.

Many of the songs are metaphoric and foreboding; you imagine that Laika's a superstitious girl but has a lair of black cats anyway. You especially like that song about her boyfriend from sophomore year, the one called "Moccasin" that describes the low-down, creepy way "he'll put you in your place, barefoot and lonely." Laika says he's "cold as a snake" and she warns you not to "get caught in the grass." One of your favorite songs is called "Lie Low" and is the closest thing she has to a love song, mellow and smooth like all the others, but still you can't get the refrain outta your head after just the first listen: "We'll be together for a million days." You know she's being facetious, because in the same song she wonders, "When did I become split in two/One half's a liar and the other half's a fool for you." Laika often confronts the mystery and self-degrading vices of relationships. Does she have trouble at home or just a string of bitter ends? "I can't face another day/One more phone ring and one more drunk display," she sings. "Scrub your back to wash the dirt away."

Laika's band plays hole-in-the-wall clubs, and she always sits on a stool, pressing her lips to the microphone the way Ozzy Osbourne wrapped his around bats. She sits pretty still, but you can see her bopping a bit within the vignette of smoke. Her voice is low and throaty, the kind that makes guys think she's sexy. She sings well but usually whispers her half-sung, half-spoken lyrics, never raising her voice. Her lyrics are more about rhyme and meter than meaning, yet the words sound good together. Yeah, you can dig it. Her aphorisms aren't too trite and cryptic, and even when they are, you love that sweet flute that revolves around the melody like a bird orbiting the sunlight, until the two coalesce into one unbreakable thing. It's tranquilizing and engaging at the same time. Sometimes listening to her music at the club you forget where you are, and most of all you forget how pretentious you think she is at school. Her music is intentionally escapist -- sounding so utterly foreign, even next to all those electronica CDs you bought freshman year. The cool kids are into her stuff now too: Thom Y. and Polly Jean have even invited her to sit at their lunch table.

It's weird how Laika grows on you. The more you listen to her, the more you like her. She may be shrouded in self-imposed mystery, but there's a real person, a sincere talent behind that doom and gloom. I hope we get to know each other better next year.

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Jessica Parker

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