There Is No Other...

Isobel Campbell

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There Is No Other... Review

by Fred Thomas

Forever cemented in indie history for her contributions to Belle & Sebastian's earliest albums, Scottish vocalist/songwriter Isobel Campbell went on to build a complex, stylistically winding body of work that never quite got out of the shadow of her six years with indie pop's biggest band. While her whisper-thin vocals and distant, melancholic presence were integral to the unique chemistry that made early Belle & Sebastian so magical, her artistry expanded in all directions afterward. She wandered from soft jazz-inflected indie outings as the Gentle Waves to grainy collaborative albums with Mark Lanegan to 2006's gorgeously sad solo set Milkwhite Sheets, a collection of beautifully spare songs inspired by traditional U.K. folk. There Is No Other... continues the understated grandeur that has touched all of Campbell's work, this time her muse taking the shape of glowing Californian pop. Campbell's signature soft-touch vocals are underscored by twilight-toned acoustic guitars and string arrangements on many of the tunes, recalling a specific moment in late-'60s Laurel Canyon psychedelic pop. This comes through the clearest in the laid-back bongo rhythms and carefree electric bass noodling of "The National Bird of India," a sunny and lighthearted song that aims for the midpoint between Joni Mitchell's searching and Serge Gainsbourg's mystery. More subdued readings of this low-lit sound appear throughout the album, with insect chirps and lazy chimes on "City of Angels" and cooing layers of backing vocals on the reverb-coated "See Your Face Again" both reminiscent of Fran├žoise Hardy's delicate early-'70s arrangements. Campbell also successfully incorporates unlikely elements into her more lively tunes. On paper, a minimal cover of Tom Petty's "Runnin' Down a Dream" built around fuzzy synth and drum machine shouldn't work, but Campbell warps the concept into something lilting and pleasant, like the friendliest imaginable interpretation of Suicide. Other surprises glide in and out over the course of the album, like the nervous electronic undercurrents of "Ant Life" or the gospel backing vocals that drive otherwise pop tunes "Hey World" and "The Heart of It All." Breezy, graceful, and luxurious, There Is No Other... ranks among Campbell's best work. Though 14 years passed between this album and her last fully solo outing, it sounds as if it were conceived fully formed, unaware of time or trends. Instead, There Is No Other... perfectly suspends the smiling mood of a hushed evening, embodying the fading warmth of the day's last sunlight.

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