Essie Jain is English, but has been based in NYC for most of her twenties, a decade that's just running out for her as she releases this gloriously glacial debut. Released last year in the States, it's now getting a worldwide re-release in advance of her upcoming second set The InBetween, due in May.
The star of these songs is Jain's voice, multitracked into harmonising strands and twisted around her melodies like Celtic knotwork. Certain benighted reviewers from across the pond have likened this instrument to that of the young Julie Andrews, but in fact this porcelain blonde betrays much more sensuality and far more melancholy than that wholesome lady ever did. On opener "Glory" she comes on like a folkier, fifties-influenced Peggy Lee, but on the beautiful "Sailor" the temperature drops and the music freezes into Jack Frost crystal traceries which are so coldly beautiful, they burn.
If you enjoyed P J Harvey's most recent album "White Chalk", you'll connect instantly with these songs. There's a plangent yearning in them, restrained, graceful, somehow old fashioned and very female. Accompanied with droning, minimalist strings, piano, wispy guitar or barely-there percussion, this is music which feels as though it contains far more than it willingly displays on its surface. The impatient will brush it away as boring or merely pretty. Delve deeper, though, and a wonderfully understated aesthetic reveals itself - rich, various and wistfully solemn as a tolling bell.