Even as recent as 5 years ago or so, the mention of the label Sub Pop would have conjured up images of rockers in the post-grunge era, trying to still sound relevant. Like any label that wants to survive in these fickle times, though, Sub Pop has gone through a lot of changes in the past couple years and released a hugely varied catalogue. The reason I bring this all up is that Heather Duby is an artist that I would have never ever pictured on Sub Pop. Instead of being indie rock or folk or anything else, she slides into more of a trip-hop category and although her voice sounds eerily like Sarah Mclachlan, this is one great little release that's on the lighter side of groups like Portishead and Massive Attack, but retains a much more interesting edge than groups like Olive or Dido.
Part of the reason for that is that although Duby still follows a more typical song structure, she never gets super mainstream sounding. In addition to that, the instrumentation on the album is quite exquisite. Although none of the songs really thump with menace, there's also nothing on the disc that sounds like it was polished for top 40 play either. The songs are varied and in addition to great structures and interesting sounds incorporated throughout, there is a surprising amount of live-sounding instrumentation thrown in to give the tracks a nice edge to them.
Most of the things are very apparent within the first track of "Judith." With a drum machine beat and some twinkling effects in the main part of the song, it gives Duby a chance to shine vocally (and make you again do a double-check and wonder if it's Mclachlan) before the chorus comes in with a super grimey sounding keyboard effect and some live drummings sounds to fill in the gaps. While the next two tracks after that are fairly interesting as well, Duby really hits stride one the fourth song. "Falter" moves along with a fairly simply keyboard melody and some low-lying bass, while "For Jeffrey" uses dual vocal tracks by Duby to create sort of an angelic chorus of one while the track moves along with a steady progression of percussion and organs that sound like a good old Wurlitzer.
The excellent tracks continue with "A Healthy Fear Of Monsters," a track which moves along with what sounds like a sample of a crackling carny music box and some loping percussion. Although "September" takes more of a traditional rock format (in that all instrumentation sounds live rather than sampled or drum machined), it doesn't feel out-of-place on the disc and instead the dark, smokey instrumentation provides the perfect backdrop to her excellent vocals (which are again layered quite nicely).
Overall, the 10 song release is quite solid and a very good debut for the artist. As mentioned in the first paragraph, the mood of the disc falls somewhere on the more interesting side of trip-hop releases that I've heard without being too poppy. The light, layered vocals buoy up even the darker tracks on the album and this is one artist I'll definitely be keeping an eye on in the future.