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fevers, rats and stars
Elizabeth Aubrey
Fevers, Rats and Stars
Peaches & Cream

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One of the major themes of 20th Century art was the exposure of pain -- specifically women's pain, as previously repressed emotions streamed forth in writing, music, art, dance and newer artistic forms. Female poets and lyricists have risen to the two-fold challenge of suffering and of articulating the experience; from Sylvia Plath to PJ Harvey, some of the sharpest and most insightful commentary on the contemporary human condition has come from women who have opened their wounds for all to see. Elizabeth Aubrey joins the fray with her debut album, Fevers, Rats and Stars, which follows in the tradition of paradoxically self-confident, self-doubting artists like Harvey and Liz Phair, with gently orchestrated pop songs about (among other things) "chronic fatigue, anxiety dreams/bad cramps, obsessing."

Aubrey's biggest mistake comes immediately, which at least serves to get it out of the way quickly. Like a sprinter who stumbles off the blocks, Fevers... misses its first step with a faux-Cowboy Junkies take on the traditional "Bury Me Beneath the Willow" that has little to do with the sharply observed songs to come. The album gets better as it goes along: "Speeding" follows an unstoppable drum roll through the line "I brake/break for no man", while "Cold Sores" explores the same broken-body-as-metaphor terrain as Hole's best work. "You think a 20 minute screw is intimacy," Aubrey sneers on the sprightly smack-down "Black Heart Wings". "You want to be the Hugh Hefner of the new millenium." Elvis Presley's death during a visit to Disneyworld frames the realization, in "Babies' Eyes", that "There is true evil, some people like watching pain." Cello and violin fill emotional space within the usual indie-pop guitar-bass-drum structure, which, along with some subtle samples and tape loops, gives the album a textured feel that makes up for the sometimes-thin production.

The album falls perhaps closer to the "promising" category than to a fully mature work. That isn't surprising given Aubrey's age -- she's in her early twenties. Her breathy vocal style sometimes misses the emotional mark, breezing over lines that the aforementioned Phair or Drugstore's Isabel Monteiro might more effectively color with the brush of experience. A couple of these songs let blood which has already been spilled on the floor; "With You I'm Nothing" affects both the vocal effect and the rhythm of PJ Harvey's superior "Snake". Aubrey seems almost to be learning on the spot as she moves from the whispy "Bury Me..." toward the fully-formed finish of "Goodnight Nurse Nancy". Fevers, Rats & Stars doesn't run the 100 meter dash in ten seconds flat, but that's okay; Aubrey seems more interested in sticking around for the long haul.

-- Ryan Tranquilla
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