Caroline: Murmurs
Temporary Residence

Has a debut single ever cast a more transfixing spell than Caroline Lufkin's “Where's My Love”? Not in recent memory, and now, following that auspicious debut, her nine-song album Murmurs arrives, prompting the inevitable question: Do the new songs match the single's splendor? Well, not quite (though the soul-piercing ballad “I'll Leave My Heart Behind” comes close) but, then again, expecting them to equal its divine magic isn't terribly reasonable. After all, such divine moments arrive all too rarely in any artist's lifetime (e.g., Bowie's “Heroes,” Nirvana's “Smells Like Teen Spirit,” to name a few) so giving birth to even one is still magnificent.

But if the new material isn't as sublime, that doesn't mean that Murmurs is an inferior collection or disappointment. In fact, the moment Lufkin's girlish voice declares “I can't remember your face / But I remember your bicycle” amidst soft muted horns in “Bicycle” is merely the first of many bewitching moments. And what a voice it is: graceful, sensual (all the more so for seeming so innocent), often spine-tingling in its untainted beauty. And the songs (entirely sample-free and constructed using strings, harps, pianos, guitars, bells, and electronic elements) are captivating too. Listen, for instance, to the glorious, swooping melodies in “Pink & Black,” “Sunrise,” and dreamy electro-soul cuts like “All I Need” and “Drove Me to the Wall.” Adding contrast, “Everylittlething” showcases a harder-edged side, with her crystalline voice draped over squelchy synth noises and rubbery electro patterns.

Still, the album's peak remains “Where's My Love.” The song's tender beauty hasn't diminished one iota since its first appearance and, if anything, its languorous tempo and sparse piano melodies now sound even more transcendent. Best of all is that sublime vocal, so vulnerable in its desperate pleading. Heartache and longing never sounded so good.

March 2006