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Post to Wire
Artist: Heather Duby
Label: Sub Pop Records  
Length: 10 tracks

Kensington Place 
For Jeffrey 

What in the world is going on with Sub Pop Records?!? Is this the same label that brought us Nirvana, Mudhoney, and Soundgarden? First, they release a couple of albums from the Stetson-wearing space lounge act The Friends of Dean Martinez. Then a couple of albums from baroque popster Eric Matthews and indie folkster Damien Jurado, the latest album from Saint Etienne, and I even hear that they're releasing the latest from the ever-forlorn Trembling Blue Stars here in the US.

If there's any doubt left that Sub Pop has turned over a new leaf, it will be put to rest by Heather Duby's debut album, Post to Wire. Combining moody, Bristol-eqsue electronics and atmospherics with Duby's Sarah MacLachlan-meets-Tracy Thorn vocals, Post to Wire sounds like something you'd expect from a label like 4AD rather than what was once the home of grunge. If you read about Post to Wire in other musical publications, you'll probably see Sarah MacLachlan mentioned. But aside from vocal similarities, the comparison doesn't hold much water. To be more accurate, imagine Sarah MacLachlan if she had her roots in the Bristol scene (Portishead, Massive Attack), as well as a healthy 4AD collection at home. Or maybe a folkier, less acerbic Insides, with atmospherics still intact.

Although the album starts off strongly, it doesn't really hit you until "Falter." Over Massive Attack-esque electronics and distant organs, Duby's voice echoes back and forth in a forlorn spiral. It somehow makes lyrics that verge on self-deprecating ("So if I falter and can't take that step/Remember it's one day of many that we may share") sound somehow triumphant and self-assured. But it's on "For Jeffrey" and "Halo Sky" that Duby really shines.

On "For Jeffrey," Duby's voice is the focus, spreading out over echoing percussion, throbbing bass, and mirky synths. It's like the final, triumphant moments of Lamb's "Gorecki" (the best song they ever wrote) stretched out for almost 8 minutes. At the song's end, Duby's voice stretches out and echoes mournfully in the distance, as if beckoning from the afterlife. "Halo Sky" is similar in tone to "For Jeffrey," but the music and vocals take on an eerier, spookier air. The music wavers and flickers like a mirage in the desert while lyrics like "How she loved him and how she cried at night/Her tattered clothes, her swollen eyes shut tight/Rolling back and forth, her mind lost at sea" add desperation and longing to the mix.

Duby's lyrics and voice always disguise a dark, smoldering nature, regardless of how dreamy the music may get, and it makes for a very interesting listen. I don't know about you, but when I hear lyrics like "Loneliness is hungry, pounds at the door incessantly/Still it wants more/Let it in sometimes, fills your heart with grief/Loneliness won't leave you and faith is out of reach" ("Kensington Place") wrapped up in a sultry female voice, I know I'm listening to something special.

It's unfortunate that female artists often get marginalized, or get cheapened as a result of the music of a select, image-friendly few. I'm sure that we can think of a few if we put our heads together. Maybe Duby needs to get pissed off, sing really cutesy-like, or something, and fall into one of those delightful stereotypes that seems to plague a lot of women's music. But Duby's music is too classy, too skilled, and just too good for that. If this is the sign of things to come from Sub Pop, then I'd say the change is for the better and furthermore, that Heather Duby has got a bright future.

Jason Morehead.


Jason Morehead is also the publisher of Opuszine, a webzine devoted to independent music and cult cinema.  All of his reviews can also be found at http://www.opuszine.com



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