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27 | Animal Life (Kimchee)
Five years on from her major-label experience as part of noise-pop combo Dirt Merchants, Maria Christopher returns with fellow Bostonians Neil Coulon and Ayal Naor with an altogether more varied outfit. Heavy on mood, augmented by occasional horns and other embellishments, 'Animal Life' is also unmistakably slick in its production and perhaps would benefit with a little roughing-up here and there and, for all the quoted comparisons to the likes of Cat Power, Mazzy Star and Aimee Mann, it would be foolish to deny the resemblance of Christopher's voice to that of ex-labelmate Fiona Apple on opener No Water and the similarly jazz-tinged Sky Walker. Thus it's hard to determine quite where the band's perceived audience lies; given that the elitism prevalent in the indie realm tends to sideline such talent, the mainstream equally scornful of projects as musically varied and non genre-specific as 27. Categorisation issues aside, there is much to admire here, notably tracks as distinctive as For an Exchange with its lyrical nod to 'Let It Be' and the breathy, Julie Doiron delivery of Devil's Play. Less successful are Trouble Heart in which Christopher pushes her voice into an unflattering rasp at odds with the rest of the album's understated prettiness, and the overlong, overblown closer Cavalla (did we really need another two minutes of chirping crickets?). A little shift in the style:substance ratio and 27 will be an altogether more enticing prospect.

Matt Dornan
March-April 2003