Breath From Another (Work)
Excessive talent is received with suspicion in the democratic world of pop, and this Toronto duo makes almost too much good music for a debut. With her creamy voice, heavy-lidded invitation and coltish R&B feel, singer Esthero (accent on syl No. 2) is sort of an ingénue Sade. Her partner, Doc, a genius of musical synthesis and studio layering, strews an abundance of exotic flower petals for her to swim around in. Together, they’re fit to challenge all atmospheric/romantic comers. P.M. Dawn, Barry White: Join forces or lose.
The beats are mighty enough to unite multiple elements. On “Breath From Another,” the slow groove drops into a quick mix-it-up bridge, while the vocals jump from croon to rap. The Brazilian guitar line of “Heaven Sent” bows to a howling monster-guitar chorus worthy of Nirvana. “That Girl” is a strummy little R&B number with muted trumpet and a smart synth countermelody. The chunky wah-wah of “Half a World Away” brings James Bond and Shaft together in a big way. Hooks: sharp and plentiful. And once in a while a lyric like “I’ll try to understand/When you’re down on your knees in front of The Man” or “I guess we didn’t have to kill her” rises up like a ghost out of the swamp.
The flaws are minor. Toward the end, Doc crawls so deep into his grooves, dissonances and noise splashes that he forgets to write songs. And in these dense surroundings, Esthero’s bedroom exhalations get a bit samey and swamped after a time. Which really just means you might not want to ingest the whole thing at once. But don’t miss a track — and don’t eject when the trip seems over, because there’s a nice surprise coming.
Mainstream radio programmers may not deem you sophisticated enough for Esthero. That would be too bad, but it would be recommendation enough.