Pop & Hiss

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Go see Tiny Vipers at Echo Curio tonight

July 27, 2009 |  4:31 pm


It's temping to call Tiny Vipers, the singer-songwriter project from Seattle's Jesy Fortino, a minimalist endeavor. She practically invites the adjective with lyrics like this, from the title track of her spare and harrowing new album, "Life on Earth" --  "I'm as empty as the sea / Back before there was life on earth."

But don't be fooled -- there's a whole world in the spaces between her deft acoustic work and the crackle of her unexpectedly deep, Neil Young-ish voice.  Some of this is due to the expert production hand of Andrew Hernandez, who imbues her sounds with a sort of distant and sad warmth, like that of a dying star. But  Fortino is just one of those rare singer-songwriters so wholly herself that she can rivet you with very, very little.

She's a great singer and player -- she completely understands the effect of her voice, and where to let her occasional drawl rip through unexpectedly. And it works every time -- something as straightforward as "Dreamer" or "Slow Motion," built off the old tools of a guitar arpeggio and a few strong melodic turns,  becomes practically incantatory after a few verses. "Young God" is something of a droney raga for the Pacific Northwest seasons where you don't see the sun for weeks (and it'd be a great black metal cover, if anyone from Southern Lord is reading this). She treats each note with such weight that "Life on Earth" takes on the severity of Springsteen's "Nebraska," a small and homemade album from a singer who sounds like she looked in the abyss and came back spooked for good.

This is a town that knows from practically interchangeable female folk singer-songwriters who have made careers of their own wispiness. Tiny Vipers is not among them. And whatever you're doing tonight will not make the hair on your neck stand up like going to see her at Echo Curio in Echo Park.

-- August Brown

Photo by David Belisle