If the R&B-esque title of Anya Marina’s second album Slow & Steady Seduction: Phase II inspires unease and provokes expectations of mushy love songs – even dreaded power ballads – you’d be let off for bracing your ears for an album full of ‘Steamy Windows’-style late ’80s retreads, in which case the folky tones of the LA-based radio DJ will come as a pleasant surprise. The breathy, finger-picked acoustic intro to opener ‘Move You’, the first single to be lifted from the album, gently acquaints you with her soft yet gravel-touched vocals, before frivolously changing gear to a funky folk-rock infusion that, as the lyrics insist that it must, certainly commands the feet.
Marina’s raspy vocals – a sort of Duffy/Cerys Matthews/Macy Gray mishmash – are well suited to her rootsier material, though Slow & Steady Seduction does indulge in certain traits that sound like they’d be more at home played in a jazz club (particularly the odd-one-out, brushed-snare shuffle of ‘Waters Of March’). ‘All The Same To Me’ is reminiscent of a modern riff on a 1950s gangster movie soundtrack with bursts of saxophone and syncopated guitar and handclap rhythms that, while exemplifying the diversity of Marina’s style, may not be everybody’s cup of tea. Elsewhere, she strays into an irritating drawl for ‘Afterparty At Jimmy’s', a rock number that’s gratingly heavy on the sneery attitude, too much to truly convince.
There’s plenty to keep the listener happy in the album’s middle. Standout track ‘Vertigo’ is the musical equivalent of cold cider, festivals, making daisy chains and sleeping in a summer meadow with its ice cream-cool licks of whispery vocals, chipper, rhythmic guitars and punchy percussion. The cadenced handclaps that narrate ‘Two Left Feet’ instantly grab your attention, and again the feet, followed by unconscious dancing and head nods. The magical ‘Not A Through Street’ is another winner. Marina’s beautifully husky vocals wash over you, inspiring the urge to lie down, close your eyes and daydream about whatever balmy thoughts she evokes, or maybe I’m just oversentimental.
Phase II is undeniably an entertaining and pleasing listen, and a much slicker album than Marina’s purring debut Miss Halfway. And even if the tricks employed across the dozen tracks occasionally feel a little overfamiliar, it’s satisfying enough to put any folk-pop aficionado’s repeat button to good use.
[Atlantic; January 19, 2009]
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