Thursday, June 13, 2013

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Jessica Bailiff's slowly unfolding and often compelling body of work has been one of music's quiet treasures from the mid-'90s forward, and Feels Like Home, her latest solo effort for Kranky, is no exception. As always, she does much of the recording and performing herself, though guests include an intriguing credit for Warren Defever for "silverizing." Bailiff's blend of lush, enveloping sonics and a haunted restraint is now something close to a signature sound, as "What's Inside Your Mind?" reveals from the start. The keening overlay of harmonies sends chills just as much as the guitar part softly invites a listener in, and from there, Feels Like Home lives up to its title in all potential senses. Bailiff's gift for guitar melodies that stick quickly remains strong, as does her almost preternaturally calm voice -- on songs like "Lakeside Blues" or "Evidence," it almost invites further concentration by default. When the songs are taken down to an even quieter level -- consider the demi-medieval chant "Persuasion," mixed to sound like a wax cylinder that fell through a time warp to 1340 Europe -- the effect can be even more unnerving and as weirdly pretty as ever. That song begins a three-song sequence at the heart of the album that emphasizes distanced vocals and heavy echo, building to a sudden and beautiful mix of piano and singing in Russian on "Spiral Dreams"; it's dramatic while never being strident. Sometimes it's just a simple touch that matters, like the audible sounds from the room on the snippet concluding "We Were Once," for instance, while on others it's very much everything at play, like the looming feedback gauze that backs the soft singing on the penultimate song "If We Could."


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