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Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Who needs love when there's Southern Comfort?

Who Killed Amanda Palmer, the solo debut from the Dresden Dolls singer and soulmate of yours truly, comes out September 16, and it is brilliant.

The disc was produced by Ben Folds, and it's got the kind of bouncy pop tracks you might expect to hear on a Ben Folds Five record, as well as some gorgeous ballads. I'm particularly excited that the plaintive "Ampersand" is as good on record as it is live.

As always, the stars of the show are Amanda's deeply personal words, which range from longing and forlorn to wickedly funny.

"The ghetto boys are catcalling," she sings in "Ampersand," before asking, "I wonder if this method of courtship has ever been effective. Has any girl in history said, 'Sure, you seem so nice, let's get it on!'"

St. Vincent's Annie Clark makes on appearance on "What's the Use of Wond'rin?", which sounds like an old-fashioned lullaby. Clark's voice is alone with a music box for the song's first 90 seconds, before Palmer jumps in, and they duet beautifully to close the song.

That track is followed by the lively "Oasis," which features hand claps, synthesizers, and Beach Boys-esque surf-pop background vocals, even while Palmer sings a story about being raped and getting an abortion. It's a combination that couldn't possibly work - except it does. The title is a reference to the arrogant British band - "I've seen better days, but I don't care/Oasis got my letter in the mail."

"Strength Through Music" is yet another standout, a sparse piano ballad about violence written just after Columbine. The silence between notes adds tension and drama, in much the same fashion as Sigur Ros' "Heysatan."

Palmer has a knack for identifying life's most troubling moments and expressing them in a heartbreaking manner. She can feel our pain, and her wounds provide a catharsis for listeners who identify with her. It's like she's on the cross for all of us. Wait, did I just compare Amanda Palmer to Jesus? Sure, why not.

"Just cause they call themselves friends doesn't mean they'll call," she laments in the pretty "The Point of it All." In "Another Year," she depressingly decides to postpone her ambitions, reasoning, "I'm only 26 years old. My grandmother died at 83. That's lots of time, if I don't smoke. I think I'll wait another year."

Admittedly, I'm a huge Dresden Dolls fan, and not at all impartial. But I honestly wasn't expecting a lot from this disc. I thought it would be a pretty quiet, low-key effort that wouldn't compare to the Dolls' records. Thankfully, I was dead wrong.

Videos have already been shot for several of the album's tracks.

Video: Amanda Palmer - Strength Through Music

Video: Amanda Palmer - Runs in the Family

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