On her devastatingly beautiful first full-length, Tiffany Anders sings with so much muted longing that she nearly implodes inside her own emotional intensity. It’s a helluva way to sing too, what with Anders suffocating in so much romantic remorse that by the end of the first track it’s difficult to imagine anyone being able to sustain such a heart-racing pace for another song, much less an entire album. But the New York-via-Los Angeles daughter of film director Allison Anders manages to pull it off on Funny Cry Happy Gift — her heartbreaking and haunting collection of twilight torch songs.
All 10 of these tracks are credited solely to Anders, though much of the credit for the album’s countrified claustrophobia and lushly layered atmospherics should be given to first-time producer PJ Harvey, who lends not only nob-noodling, but guitar, bass, organ and a slew of weeping-willow backing vocals. It’s a stunning effect. Anders’ and Harvey’s voices are perfectly matched, twisting themselves around the emotional ether and each other, and building into full-on frenzies on standouts such as “Person I Knew” and “I See How Much Has Changed,” where Anders weighs the price of time’s passing on love and life.
Despite Harvey’s heavy influence on the album, however, Funny Cry Happy Gift is clearly the work of Anders, whose late-night, lovelorn lilt is the album’s true draw. “I can’t see past the point where you once stood/So now I look the other way,” she coos desperately on the forlorn “White Frost Hills,” her voice thick with memories of relationships she can’t forget — and can’t help but regret. So while hers is a voice that’s uncommon in its slow-burning intensity, an album that’s full of such subtle and moving moments demands nothing less.
E-mail Jimmy Draper at firstname.lastname@example.org.