Julie Frost

The Wave

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Like Nelly Furtado or Fiona Apple, Chicago singer/songwriter Julie Frost likes to place pleading heartache, clever wordplay, and determined pluck over nuanced arrangements drawing from a variety of musical sources. "Shining Star" does the neo-hippie vibe well, with a loopy bass throb and the warm tones of an organ, while "Life After You"'s first-person tale of an interrupted relationship features keening bursts of cello and a hint of scratchy drum programming. Frost herself is quite an expressive singer; in her bolder moments she seems to reach for that same aching place the blues singers do, but at the same time she can color a quieter cut like "Little Piece of Sky" subtly. Her voice is thin in there -- almost frail -- over its fractured, Yo La Tengo-style guitar understatement. The nice thing about The Wave is that, despite its wide embrace of reference, Frost and her counterparts keep ownership of her songs. Standouts include the quiet hope of "Mary's Song" and -- though a cut like this seems to appear on every strong female singer/songwriter offering -- "Pretty Girl," which contains the great couplet "I'm pretty sure a pretty girl could handle this/A pretty girl could make it go away" -- the mixture of vulnerability and embittered resignation there is just classic, and proves that with a few clever instrumental turns and an engaging presence on the mic, an artist can flirt with the adult alternative mold while striving to outpace it.

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