Thrill (Space Baby)

Eleni Mandell 

Thrill (Space Baby)

Since co-producing Wishbone, Eleni Mandell's dazzling debut, Jon Brion has become a studio "It" man, having composed the Magnolia score and lent his distinctive, dense sound to Fiona Apple's acclaimed latest release. Meanwhile, Mandell remains one of modern music's most overqualified unsigned artists -- nearly unanimous praise for Wishbone has failed to translate into a major-label bidding frenzy. Thrill, her latest micro-indie release, lacks Brion's proven Midas touch, but the proudly no-frills production ("no computers were used in the recording of this record," according to the liner notes) captures the intimate feel of Mandell's smoldering live shows while ensuring that the focus remains on her stunning vocals, not on layers of ornate instrumentation.

That's not to say this is a stripped-down, acoustic-guitar affair. Mandell's husky voice booms over an impressive array of backdrops, including a symphonic pairing of viola and marimba, a snarling rockabilly merger of upright bass and electric guitar, and a festive mix of accordion and salsa-style horns. With an impressive range and ability to convey personality through her voice, Mandell steps into a wide variety of roles. In one song she's a self-assured seductress, claiming in a bluesy, slow-crawling coo, He thinks he's in love with this girl/... He's in love with me. Later, she's a former nice girl, chanting, I won't be good any more, with rhythmic conviction; a sultry sexpot whispering, Action is action/Don't you want to get some; and an intimidating growler whose references to taking you out refer to a night on the town but could easily be interpreted as an assassination assignment. Each character is independent, confident, and unafraid to pursue what she wants -- they're all perfect parts for Mandell, who has toured the country solo to promote her self-released record.

Thrill proves that Wishbone's excellence emerged from Mandell's vision and that Brion's knob-turning prowess was the polish on an already sparkling gem, not the extraction of a diamond from the rough. Some lucky label will inevitably snatch her up, as even the most commercially oriented corporate behemoths like to have a few token critical darlings on their rosters. Thrill makes another strong argument on Mandell's behalf.

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