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Jessica Bailiff - Feels Like Home

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Artist: Jessica Bailiff

Album: Feels Like Home

Label: Kranky

Review date: Aug. 11, 2006

Kranky Records mainstay Jessica Bailiff excels at acoustic quietude. Her work possesses a hushed deliberateness that, while occasionally soporific, is pretty damn lovely. Her latest, Feels Like Home, is deceptively simple, with repetitive motifs and elementary vocal refrains. But Bailiff’s use of space and texture gives the music an expansive quality that belies its modest instrumentation.

Fingerpicked acoustic guitar provides the framework for most of the songs on the disc. There’s not much in the way of flash, either in execution or production. Bailiff’s tranquil singing is very much in the shoegaze tradition, with primary color-melodies and a distinct halo of reverb. But without the dense layers of guitar, her every word comes through loud and clear. This is not always a good thing; Bailiff’s lyrics can be prosaic, with widescreen metaphors that aren’t necessarily print-worthy.

“Spiral Dream” features cautious piano and somewhat bolder electric bass. Here, Bailiff’s voice is more obscured, with a serene, high-toned melody that disappears more quickly than I’d have preferred. Actually, fade-outs are rather common on Feels; I wonder if she employs them to avoid composing suitable codas.

Most of the songs succeed through their stark simplicity. “Pressing” is an austere meditation that moves in shadowy cycles of melody, while “Brother La” features minor-key arpeggios and a gorgeously fragile vocal. When she moves into more brazen territory, such as on the pulsing “If We Could,” Bailiff shows herself to be a capable noise herder. The song’s sheets of degraded tone had me wishing she’d bust out the fuzzboxes more often.

The album’s closing track, “With You” isn’t a perfect finish, but its candid declaration of romantic loyalty sounds sincere enough. Peripheral soundwashes provide a nice balance to the bucolic acoustic base.

Bailiff’s slow-moving, finely wrought compositions are perfect for moments of deep reflection. At other times, however, the music’s essential sameness might be wearying. But if you’re in need of a folksy narcotic, Feels Like Home makes a decent prescription.

By Casey Rae-Hunter

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