Sharps & Flats

Another solipsistic chick with an airy voice? Leona Naess proves that's not such a bad thing.

Published May 15, 2000 4:00PM (EDT)

Leona Naess' music is so five years ago -- and that's only part of its appeal. Brit-born Naess is 24, and she recorded her debut album two years ago. Her solipsistic tales are those of a woman in transition, sung with the candor of Fiona Apple and the airiness of Tori Amos. She's very post-college.

"Comatised" pieces together a young woman's experience with independence and desire, mirrored through -- you guessed it -- relationships. But the self-indulgence that dates "Comatised" also threatens to make it stale. Like all trips into the past, sometimes it reveals something about a moment in time, a person or an emotional state; other times, it just brings on a bout of ennui.

Naess believes in love: in its ability to redeem, destroy and silence the "noise crashing through her head." Her songs examine Cupid's powers and her own emotional interior. (Random nugget of trivia: She has the dubious distinction of being the former stepdaughter of Diana Ross.) The few upbeat pop songs, like "All I Want," "Charm Attack" and "Everything," are charged up by chugga-chugga guitar lines that squeal and squall toward big, splashy climaxes. The peppy numbers are earnest and idealistic. "All I want is a touch of Marilyn/With the heart and soul of Steinem," she declares in "All I Want," becoming perhaps the first pop songstress to reference a sex queen and a feminist goddess in a single breath.

But despite her deft lyrics, the music sounds too familiar, too ordinary. And the verses are softer than the all-too-predictable, cathartic release in the chorus. In the single "Charm Attack," Naess sing-speaks her lyrics: She's the girl who knows all about that smooth-talking, untrustworthy guy, because she succumbed to him, too. It's a strong song -- and the best of the uptempo ones -- but it's misleading as the single. The rest of the album just doesn't have that same you-go-girl spirit.

Naess is at her best -- and most honest -- when she's in a fixed state of emotional enervation that fills the rest of "Comatised" with cool, string-filled contemplations on love. Percussion is kept to a minimum, with splashes of drum programming adding to the ethereal quality. Her soulful alto, almost always multitracked with harmonies, allows her to almost intuitively inhabit her songs, scooping notes for impact. The piano in "Northern Star" is a mere suggestion; mixed way down, there's a disconnect between the instrument and her quiet vocals. In the end, it's an apostrophe given perhaps to a long-gone lover. In these bare moments, Naess is most forthright and compelling.

Naess has yet to prove she can transition between those opposing moods with the finesse of Beth Orton, for example. But who knows if she even wants to? Consequently, when she attempts to rock, it feels sort of half-assed, a bit forced and sluggish. The mellow tunes radiate an organic authenticity; her voice becomes hushed as she tells her lover bittersweet love stories. There's no shortage of women with long, wavy tresses and lilting voices fraught with desperation and desire, of course, but "Comatised" suggests that there might be room for one more.

By Carrie Havranek

Carrie Havranek is a freelance writer. Her work has appeared on ChickClick and in the Village Voice.

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