Anagram is the duo of Eric Holland (Milk Cut) and Jessica Congdon (whose all-girl project Vervein released one of 2003?s most endearing charmers in ?Vast Low Cities? ? also produced by Holland!), with an eclectic series of revolving supporting players. Opener ?Behavior? features Alruna?s Johanna Dahl on cello and Anna Gustavsson?s manic, puntuated drumbeat, and, not surprisingly, reminds me of some of that VLC?s finer moments. (Presumably) recorded in G?teborg, Sweden, the track draws from that country?s phenomenal female gene pool but, make no mistake, Anagram is not Jess?s all new ?girl group,? as Holland?s klunky, occasionally kitschy keys imbue the album with a distinct 80?s electro-sheen, a la Book of Love, Missing Persons or Kim Wilde and several tracks (e.g., ?Madly,? ?Distance,? ?Buffalo?) don?t include Holland at all.
Congdon?s sexy, breathy vocals add an emotional warmth to Holland?s perky, keyboard ear candy, reining the tracks in from potentially embarrassing, albeit typically 80?s electronic excess. You won?t find any 12? remixes here! ?Distance? and ?Jackrabbit? are essentially solo tracks save Mark Lardas? drumming and both have a swirling, hard rocking Breeders? vibe bordering on shoegazing psychedelia. Vervein cellist and co-founder, Esther Reyes joins Congdon for the somber weeper, ?Apartment,? which you can also find alongside several other Anagram tracks (and Reyes? cello solos) on the Holland-composed soundtrack to the award-winning Sundance film, ?Dopamine? (Alfred P. Sloan Feature Film Prize, 2003), which Congdon also edited. [The duo met while working on the film and have since become members of the Ocean Park Music Group, which licenses music for film, TV, and commercials. This is a natural fit for their frequent excursions into cinematic atmospherics on the album and has resulted in product placement on the soundtrack to the German film, ?Big Girls Don?t Cry? and a Swedish TV show!]
I also liked the dreamy, romantic ruminations of ?Buffalo,? with it?s quirky, confessional tone that had me making favorable mental comparisons to the work of Ann Magnuson and Bongwater, and the bouncy finale, ?Un,? which has Lush written all over it. There?s even a lovely hidden bonus track that?s not your typical throwaway garbage. A lonely piano wanders across field recordings of city traffic and rainstorms until Congdon?s heartbreaking vocals relate a tale of love?s labors lost as our heroine desperately clings to a broken relationship, picking through photographs of happier days before the fall. The titular suffix signifies an end?negation, and the song perfectly encapsulates that emotional loss. It also ends the album with a tear and a sigh and will stick with you long after the disk is returned, gently and delicately, into its jewelcase. 8/10 -- Jeff Penczak (16 June, 2005)