Alias Grace

Embers

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AllMusic Review by

The duo's exquisite debut album is a pure, total delight from the opening cut "Talk Simple." Adapting a love-drunk lyric from a No-Man song, "Tulip," by Chilvers' Samuel Smiles partner Bowness -- who also pops up on quiet backing vocals for "Cry Sweet Child" -- it's a masterpiece of quiet but deep pleasure, making for one heck of a calling card for Embers as a whole. The best comparison might be to the equally compelling duo Lamb, though eschewing the more hyperactive dance edge in favor of gentle guitar, steady beats, and subtly lush keyboard arrangements. O'Neill's vocals are the supreme touch, reminiscent of the Moon Seven Times' Lynn Canfield, like the music strong without raising the roof -- she can sing and demonstrates it by not having to amp things up or show them off. Chilvers' performing touch is evident in the music's understated complexity, hints of elegant jazz arrangements and avant-garde folk progressions cropping up here and there without suddenly dominating. The synths that he adds throughout much of the album flesh out the compositions in a truly lovely way -- they don't clutter, but carefully set moods -- while when doing lead keyboards he can show true flash, as on "Let It Go" or the utterly grand, heart-tugging "Catching the Stars." Though only handling vocals, O'Neill herself is no slouch as a songwriter, with three songs to her sole credit (including the excellent "Angel") and co-writing on that many more; together the two make for a more than effective partnership. Guest performances on drums by Dan Bird and guitar by (one presumes) his brother Jim add just enough where needed (the semi-twang of "Make the Luck You Need" is a good example), and the whole is simply a gentle treasure. Beauty and mystery, song for song.

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