Leona Naess

Comatised (MCA)

May 17, 2000 at 4:00 am
Leona Naess is a serious woman: The booklet accompanying her new CD features several photos of her, and the only one in which she's smiling was taken when she was something like 10 years old. Is this what it's like to be "comatised"?

Read the lyrics of her songs, and you'll be struck by how mundane her expressions of pain and heartbreak can be. She wants to find a perfect love but seems to have trouble doing so, and she tells of these troubles over and over again. The words are stark, straightforward, decidedly nonornamental.

But Naess loves ornamentation in her music: Lots of overdubbed vocal parts swirling around and on top of the basic melody mingle with delightful string-trio lines and gently humming new-wave-styled guitar bits. Most of the songs on Comatised break into deliciously extravagant choruses, genuine moments of inventive beauty that capture the heart way more than the head.

Naess has a lovely voice, but she's not a great singer. She makes do with unique phrasing and insistent arrangements when some of her verses could use a soaring melody. But then, just when you're in danger of being bored, she breaks into one of those unforgettable choruses.

Comparisons to other artists spring to mind, but they're always muted. Some Cure-style guitar work pops up here and there, and the string parts recall Prince's Around the World in a Day. The vocal arrangements bear a slight similarity to works by Sarah McLachlan. "Chase" that alludes both musically and lyrically to Liz Phair's "Fuck and Run."

It's not easy for a new artist to break in today's musical climate, and Naess sounds like one who is still growing into her true talents. Comatised could use some pruning here and there, yet it offers more than enough pleasures to make one hope she will enjoy a long and varied career.