Baby Dee, whose voice is an androgynous hybrid of carnival barker and Medieval Times serving-boy, begs to be compared to other nontraditional vocalists like Antony Hegarty, Björk, and Joanna Newsom. Fans of this sort of oddball yelping generally encourage more timid listeners to partake by suggesting that a) the voice will “grow on you” or b) you should “get past” the voice because the songs are “just that good.” Even though I can’t get enough of Newsom’s pixyish squeal, I confess that Baby Dee’s not quite my cup of holler. But after the slew of sleepy, understated records that 2007 begot (Burial, the Field, Stars of the Lid, etc.), Safe Inside the Day is a refreshing, wacky little album that’s a perfect opener to the hopefully more up-tempo 2008. Although it’s not quite as unusual a record as Dee’s freak show background might suggest—she was the “bilateral hermaphrodite” at Coney Island and toured with the Bindlestaff Family Circus and the Kamikaze Freak Show—it’s still pretty fucking weird. Musically, Dee draws quite a bit from the British folk tradition and German cabaret (though “A Compass of the Light” sounds kind of like a hymn and “Fresh Out of Candles” is distinctly bluesy) but a listener’s hopes of “getting past” her vocals and just digging the tunes are discouraged by Dee superfans and Day‘s producers Will Oldham and Matt Sweeney, who push the orchestrations low into the mix to better emphasize Dee’s vibrato in all of its questionable glory. (With nifty lyrics like “My father’s affection for his crowbar collection/Was Freudian to say the least,” who can blame them?) Safe Inside the Day isn’t immediately loveable but it is smart and original, and those traits alone make it noteworthy and well worth a listen. And who knows: maybe it’ll grow on you.
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