I love this album. I love it because it doesn't pretend. It doesn't try too hard. It doesn't stretch itself too far, trying to be the next big anything. It's just damn good music.
27 hangs its hat on Maria Christopher's voice. Breathy, dusky, couched in dark corners, Christopher isn't the kind of girl you need to hug, help or protect. She's the kind of girl you meet at a bar, who could potentially outdrink you and still drive you home. She's a femme fatale, wreathed in smoke and face half cast in shadow. In short, she's an original, and likely to inspire comparisons to everyone from Esthero to Beth Orton. But with her delivery -- her laconic, languorous approach, every line a hushed whisper -- you might do better by comparing future songstresses to her.
Animal Life is nothing you haven't heard before, and yet it is. None of these songs are remakes, and the only listed sample comes on "No Water", from Charles Mingus's "The Black Saint and the Sinner Lady". The rest of the album is familiar only because these are songs you've heard in your head a million times as part of the Collective Subconscious, begging to be recorded. If you bob your head, if you predict where the breaks are, it's only because they're where they're supposed to be. 27 has fashioned a trip-pop album that is listenable, hummable and infectious from the get-go.
"No Water" has a hook that will stick in your head despite your best intentions. While not every song on the album is this radio-friendly, all of them could be, given a chance by a courageous listener on the make for something new. "Trouble Heart" is the song the Cowboy Junkies would write if they were ever optimistic. "Sky Walker" is Dummy-era Portishead without the throbbing bass. "9 Mile Burn" is a gorgeous marriage of discordant harmonies and Christopher's light-as-air vocals. Make no mistake: light as they may be, these vocals are not swept away effortlessly, but will probably settle like pollen in the back of your mind. Discerning the lyrics requires conscious effort, but every melody is slight enough to haunt you at work all day long, infecting your coworkers as you hum along, enthralled.
If I, and not SPIN, had the power to proclaim instant modern classics, I would dub Animal Life the first widely accessible, no-assembly-required hit album of the year. "For An Exchange" is about the catchiest song Jill Sobule never wrote, and "Cavella" makes its living from a bird call, as near as I can tell. Those are two of nine reasons to crown 27 the next coming of intelligent and infectious pop, but I have a feeling it'll take the rest of the music intelligentsia awhile to catch on. Don't wait until they're shoving 27 down your throat -- though you could be forced to swallow worse things. Get on the bandwagon now, while it's still parked and in need of a driver.