White Hats

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For an artist assigned to the electronica genre, Niobe employs a lot of acoustic instruments on her fourth album, White Hats. The primary one is the acoustic guitar, which gives some of the music on the disc a folky feel. Niobe does set some of her songs to beats presumably generated electronically, but this is not a dance record. It is dominated by her languorous vocals, which are rendered in a voice with the same timbre and general style as Joni Mitchell and Rickie Lee Jones. She even begins "The Hills" a cappella, which would seem to defy the electronica tag completely. But she justifies it by the ambivalent character of the music. Nominally, the record should be accessible; it's certainly easy on the ears. But it is also extremely elusive, in part because the recording and mixing of the vocals emphasize the sound of the voice within the other instruments rather than bringing it out front. Even when Niobe is singing in a relatively unfiltered way, however, it's nearly impossible to figure out what the lyrics are. She is singing in English, not German, but her Germanic phrasing and emphasis, along with the way she shapes her melodies, render her words virtually incomprehensible. This is not, no doubt, accidental. Although it dabbles in various musical styles, White Hats earns its categorization as electronica because it is primarily concerned with soundscapes that happen to feature instruments and voices rather than with anything as mundane as songs with lyrics that can be understood.

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