With the superb How I Learned to See in the Dark, Chris Pureka confirms the great promise of her previous releases Driving North (2004), Dryland (2006), and last year’s EP Chimera, delivering an intense and powerful set of songs that richly rewards the listener. Produced with Merrill Garbus, the new album boasts a more nuanced and textured sound than its predecessors, its robust, melodic songs building confidently and seductively with a steady accretion of instruments. This is achieved without sacrificing intimacy; Pureka’s vocals and distinctive guitar-work remain front and center throughout. A beautiful consistency of tone is sustained, yet each track has a distinctive identity, from the moody opener “Wrecking Ball” and the taut, haunting “Hangman”, through the urgent “Landlocked” and the sturdy groove of “Broken Clock”, to the driving, catchy “Lowlands” and the gorgeously dramatic “Time Is the Anchor”. Pureka’s lyrics are as strong as ever, literate, well-crafted, and insightful. Vocally, she still sounds a little like Gillian Welch at times, but her voice is more pliable and sensuous than Welch’s, moving compellingly from hushed whisper to raw rasp, and effortlessly drawing the listener in. This is a striking and highly accomplished record that deserves to be widely heard.
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