It's a credit to Esthero's skills that her sultry debut is still remembered seven years after its release, and in the shadow of a warm, funky follow-up. Most albums of this type fade into obscurity.
But Canadian trip-hoppist Esthero, with the help of producer Doc, manages to create a unique musical experience in "Breath From Another": chilly trip-jazz, with sexy lyrics and some hip-hop flavourings. The songwriting can be hit-and-miss, but the music and Esthero's singing are wonderful.
It opens on a diverse note in the title track: slow trippy beats and waves, which rapidly rev up into a hip-hop sound. Esthero's voice starts off breathy, but after she launches into a throaty rap, her vocals gain substance and strength. "Don't compromise what's gold/For the soul you never sold," she croons over and over.
Several songs of the songs that follow could be classified as pop music, like the catchy "That Girl" and James-Bondian interlude "Flipher Overture." But Esthero never leaves behind trip-hop and hip-hop, both of which flicker up in various songs.
But other styles crop up over the course of the album: pure soft electronica, dancey jazz, trippy Latin, and others. The only unifying style here is trip-hop. As a result, a few songs simply don't fit in: "Country Livin' (The World I Know)" moves too slow and has too few beats thrown in, so it feels vaguely out of place.
Canadian Esthero herself sounds a lot like Icelandic pop star Emiliana Torrini, who also has made a career out of electic styles. Her voice can be throaty or sweet, depending on the song. Doc (with whom she has since parted ways) produced a beautiful array of songs for her to sing, with everything from electronica to harp.
And Esthero's sweet voice can bring a surprising sense of innocence to some very sexual songs. And some truly beautiful ones as well: "My mouth is clean, my hands are dirty/Heaven isn't on my side," she sings mournfully at one point. But the lyrics here are not quite as even as her later work; the second half has some songs that sound a bit silly. "Stay awhile longer sweet tongue of fur and feather/There is a white breast waiting for you here" -- what?
Esthero's trippy, jazzy debut is a mad melange of styles and sounds, and the sometimes-uneven lyrics can't bog down a very talented singer. Definitely worth checking out.