Albums of the week
ROOMS WITH WALLS AND WINDOWS
ME. I AM MARIAH… THE ELUSIVE CHANTEUSE
Quiet, reticent, not wanting to draw too much attention to oneself - qualities that don't sit well together if you are a singer who pours his heart out on stage.
You think of afflicted musicians such as late folk minstrel Nick Drake or reclusive freak-folk godmother Vashti Bunyan, who was awestruck to perform at the Esplanade in 2010 as part of the Mosaic Music Festival.
They sing unobtrusively, murmuring into the background. If they could vanish, they would.
Seattle's Julie Byrne has that same discreetness. She slurs and lets vowels blend into one another.
Her debut album, Rooms With Walls And Windows, cobbles material from two limited-edition 2011/2012 cassette tapes, You Would Love It Here and Teen River.
They were recorded live in Chicago, where she used to live.
Perhaps, because they were committed directly into tape without much post- production, they feel ephemeral, a document of an itinerant soul. The effect is similar to listening to a less mannered Julia Holter or an unvarnished Chan Marshall of Cat Power.
Words can mean only so much, and Byrne trails off and lets the pause hang in the air. Her voice, residing in the raspier, lower register, is unusual for an indie folk songstress, but even more so for the way it never feels guttural or world-weary.
A gossamer gauze hangs over doleful ruminations on memory, loss and meanings of home, as you lulled into a deceptive calmness. On the softly strummed Marmalade, she confesses: "All I want is a brick house with a porch that wraps around/All I want is land enough for my child to roam." The earthiness never once feels patronising.