Persephone's Bees

Notes from the Underworld

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Great pop music often requires great partnerships, and intriguing pop music often results from the collision of complementary but competing forms of expression. In vocalist/songwriter Angelina Moysov and guitarist Tom Ayres, the San Francisco band Persephone's Bees reveal a partnership that, on the surface, never should have worked. Moysov is a native Russian transplanted to California in 1990, who gained much influence from her Gypsy heritage, although her singing owes as much to the très moderne French and Brazilian schools. Ayres meanwhile, is a guitar freak who displays a close knowledge of power pop, alternative dance, and the heavy chordings of glam rock gods like Brian May and Mick Ronson. Together, they make Notes from the Underworld one of the best major-label debuts of the year, an everlastingly fresh parade of dynamic pop songs and cunning productions. (Producer Eric Valentine deserves much of the credit for the latter.) "City of Love," already famous thanks to a Razr phone ad, is an exercise for Moysov's coy wit and Ayres' economical licks (which range from smooth to shrieking), while Valentine delves into production textures by Wurlitzer and Theremin. The song has nearly as many twists and turns as a track from Fiery Furnaces (another band who know something about Orthodox Europe), but with an inevitable sense of energy that's been difficult to find with the B-52's entering the studio less often than they did in the '80s and '90s. "Nice Day" is another clear single, and although its breezy platitudes, the group makes it lively enough. If Moysov is the star of the first half of the record, Ayres takes over side two, beginning with the brisk "On the Earth" (whose false fade yields 30 seconds of pure bliss), and segueing smoothly to the sweet Fleetwood Mac pop of "Walk to the Moon." "Paper Plane," and "Queen's Night Out" are exquisite pieces of jagged British psychedelic pop (both of which could have slotted nicely on the '60s Brit box set, Nuggets, Vol. 2). The closer, "Home," is just as self-assured and dynamic as the ten songs before it, and coasts into the sunset with a slide-guitar coda worthy of Jeff Beck himself.

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