Jessie Kilguss possesses a truly finely honed voice that's occasionally female counterpart to Nick Drake (some of the similarities in Desert Song are eerie) but more a blend of Joni Mitchell, June Christy, Toni Tenille, Goldfrappe, and Kate Bush. She also has a background in theater and appeared in the London and Sydney versions of Tom Waits' Black Rider (I saw the L.A. version, so I missed her). She classifies her work as 'filmic', and it's an apt coinage, the pastorality and city imageries of these extremely well-engineered tracks jumping out 3-D. Though she's neither a Marianne Faithfull nor a Nico, Kilguss' work is frequently dark and depressive with accompaniment sometimes artistically clatterous, properly intoning the underbelly of everyday life. Like a nightingale, she sings refrains both gorgeous and wistful, hypnotic for their perfection of tone but existentially melancholy. The Word balances these traits extremely well but also very delicately underscores the cleverness of much of Exotic Bird's material: not often does Kilguss go quite where one expects her to.
This is an element nearly dead in modern rock musics (and I hesitate mightily to call this 'rock'). Suspended in attractive melodies that almost immediately gaze to the peripheries of orthodoxy, what she does with the shifts and changes within them is subtle as hell, demanding close attention to really appreciate the artfulness of it all. I suspect producer Super Buddha is equally responsible, as the knock-out pristinity of the entire disc is witness to an extraordinary attention to detail. Perhaps her take on Waits' I'll Shoot the Moon is most indicative of the entire tone of Exotic Bird. If you didn't catch the original, it's a creepy love song of dementia (kinda like Sting's psycho Every Move You Make), 30s gorgeous here, seemingly a croon for moonlight…until you pay attention to the lyrics...until you understand the composure is a mask.…and until the music waxes psychotic, its ostinato effects turning from catchy to alarming, a delightfully shuddery turnabout. For this and other quirky attributes, I'm reminded of Meryn Cadell's vastly undersung work (two great CDs on a major label and nary a word from the friggin' crits!), though mention should also be made of Alan Cox, who contributes some Shakespeareanly arch—a la Nick Cave—back-up vox and guitar on a couple cuts. More of this guy, please, definitely more, but, in the meantime, Kilguss is almost ready to issue her second CD and the breath quickens in expectation.
Edited by: David N. Pyles
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