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Happy You Near

Noise For Pretend
Happy You Near
(Hush Records)

Despite playing a stand up bass that makes her seem even smaller than she really is, singer Esperanza Spalding has a voice that you won't soon forget. Although only 17 years of age, her group Noise For Pretend marked their debut a couple months back on a split release with Blanket Music, and has now quickly followed it up with a full-length. While that 4-song release held a similar vibe, this newest release finds the trio expanding on their jazzy, bossa nova palette into several different areas, most of which work quite well.

Opening with "The Song Formerly Known As Whatever We Used To Call It," (which was recorded on Valentines Day of this year), the album starts on a strong foot with one of the best tracks the group has done to date. Steadily chugging along with a nice upright bassline, some subdued drums, and staggered bits of guitars, the vocals of Spalding are treated with a slight flange that helps give the whole track a nice, gauzy feel. "Due To Lamplooking" follows things up with a jazz-infected pop track, while "Go Figure, Another Warm Day In Paradise" again finds the group in fine form, mixing a touch of melancholy into a delightful pop track while again showcasing the amazing, warm vocals of Spalding.

On "Melatonin Head," the group takes a bit of a turn, and it's mainly due to guitarist Ben Workman taking vocal duties. Musically the track isn't too different, moving along with sort of a downtempo shuffle offset with a slightly louder chorus, with Workman adding emotive vocals. After a slightly different version of the obligitory spy song "Money Penny" (from their split release), the group riffs an ode to fast cars with "Most Red Wagons Aren't Very Long," complete with goofy sound samples and plucky guitars.

Workman again takes over vocals on a couple of tracks near the end of the release, and despite their titles ("Seven Dead Kids (for Eric)" and "Blisters"), both move along with a jaunty pop flair. As with the earlier track on the album, they take on a much different feel with the male vocals, sounding a little less worldly and jazzy, and more towards the pop side of things. Of course, besides the two tracks that were also on the EP, the release as a whole finds the group moving in different directions. The result is a bit uneven in places, which can be expected from a group who've only been around a short period of time. Still, the moments of excellence far outway the lackluster ones, and it's another nice little debut and another solid release on Hush.

Rating: 7