"Kidnapped by Neptune"
Scout Niblett is the real thing -- a real piece of work, as anyone who listens to her third CD will soon discover.
One moment the British-born, California-based singer-songwriter has you convinced that she's one of the five people you'll meet in hell. You know, the singer with the impossibly shrill voice and no regard whatsoever for accurate pitch and other musical niceties. Then she wins you over entirely with a wry, kick-drum-driven ditty, an odd lament concerning a woman in dire need of a pep rally staged for her own benefit: "Does anybody know a cute girl with some pom-poms? / Everybody needs someone to spell out their name in a little song / Please, please just send her along, to cheer me on . . . "
There's also this to consider: Niblett's bipolar pop tastes. Some of the tracks on "Kidnapped by Neptune" sound so sparse and haunting that you begin to wonder if she grew up listening to nothing but Appalachian field recordings. But those notions vanish whenever her grunge influences kick in, triggering a blast of guitar distortion and drumroll thunder.
All the while veteran producer Steve Albini does nothing to inhibit Niblett's mood swings. He's a co-conspirator here, finding ways to emphasize Niblett's voice, an alternately unnerving and soulful croon, and to showcase her fragmentary lyrics. When everything clicks -- on "Pompoms," the solitary blues "Where Are You?" and several other tracks -- "Kidnapped by Neptune" come across as intriguing and endearingly eccentric. When it doesn't, and Niblett's often repetitive refrains wear thin, the performances can chase you right out the door.
-- Mike Joyce
Appearing Sunday at the Black Cat.