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Dark Eyes

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Album Review

Ambitious does not always mean big or noisy, as Olivia Fetherstonhaugh amply demonstrates on her first album as Fanshaw. Fetherstonhaugh has previously recorded as a member of the Choir Practice, a choral group made up of members from Vancouver's gifted (and sizable) indie rock community, but having shown what she can do within a large group, Dark Eyes finds her working on a more intimate scale, and it reveals Fanshaw as a very impressive talent. Dominated by Fetherstonhaugh's strong, dramatic, but breathy voice and spectral electric guitar figures, the nine songs on Dark Eyes are built around layers of vocals supported by spare, evocative arrangements, sometimes with just one or two other instruments on hand to carry her melodies. But Fetherstonhaugh can more than handle the weight of her songs by herself, and fine songs they are — her lyrics are smart and darkly atmospheric, made all the more powerful with her artful use of dynamics, and though the melodies are simple, they're beautifully crafted and soar with impressive height on the strength of her vocals. Dark Eyes is an album whose quiet surfaces are deceptive; this music often seems calm on first glance, but there's a remarkable amount of energy and drama lurking below the surface, and on "Strong Hips," "Vegas," and "O Sailor," Fanshaw paints a powerful widescreen image with just a few boldly applied strokes of her musical brush. The compact scale of the production and arrangements on Dark Eyes at once draws in the listener and fills up the room despite the clean surfaces; Fanshaw has built a giant of an album out of little details, and it's one of the most audacious debuts of 2010.

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