Esthero Groove Through Varied Soundscapes

Canadian duo mixes hip-hop, jazz, reggae and lo-fi with overtones of lounge pop.

LOS ANGELES -- The spotlight beaming on Esthero, singer of the

Canadian trip-pop duo of the same name, only made her pale skin even more

porcelain-like, her red hair even more flaming.

All was ethereal: Projected on the walls behind Esthero, swirling circular

images recalled an out-of-control lava lamp, while in front, a fan in the crowd at

the Roxy on Tuesday night blew bubbles that drifted up and toward her.

The ambiance matched the music -- and the singer's moves. On the chorus of

the moody "Swallow Me," Esthero had her eyes closed. She covered her face

with her hands, leaving only a small gap between them so her soulful, Bjork-like

voice could still sneak through, coaxed by the accompaniment of her partner,

programmer and guitarist Doc, and their six-piece touring band.

The singer had warned the crowd that this would be the last song of the night.

"You're just going to have to deal with it," she'd said, when the crowd had

protested.

But the fans never let it happen.

As "Swallow Me" drew to a close, the crowd let loose with waves of cheers and

applause, all but demanding that the musicians return for an encore.

And Esthero and Doc delivered, performing a smooth and elegant version of

jazz legend Thelonious Monk's " 'Round Midnight."

Most fans zeroed in on Esthero's powerful yet ethereal vocals. "Her voice is very

affecting," said 23-year-old Martin Slattery, keyboardist for the rock-

electronica group Bond, a labelmate of Esthero's.

It was a fitting end to an evening of wide sonic variety, of loping reggae and rich

R&B giving way to hip-hop and acid jazz -- all tinged with overtones of lounge

pop and anchored with an affecting groove.

"I thought it was wicked," Doc said the following day. "I have to say that was our

best one yet. We've only done, like, 14 shows ever, so it's still weird getting out

and seeing fans. And to see people feeling it that way -- that's the best."

Doc, who's from St. Paul, Minn., said he couldn't believe that he and the

Ontario, Canada-bred Esthero met just three years ago in Toronto, the city they

each adopted as home. As an aside, the 26-year-old musician said he's

anxious for Esthero to turn 20, because he feels "like the big kid in Hanson." "I

always tell her, 'You've got so many records in you -- I'm gonna be old and in a

rockin' chair, going [high, squeaky voice], "Maybe you need to turn them vocals

up," ' " Doc said, breaking into laughter.

He also expressed surprise at the major-label interest in their music. It was

Sony's Work Group -- not some fringe indie -- that picked them up and released

their debut album, Breath From Another, in April. "It was something that

was put together just to be cool songs, not for a major-label record," said Doc,

adding that the album was recorded in his studio -- apartment.

The album's standout songs, the first single

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Esthero/Heaven_Sent.ram">"Heaven

Sent" (RealAudio excerpt), "That Girl" and the

HREF="http://www.addict.com/music/Esthero/Breath_From_Another.ram">title

track (RealAudio excerpt), amply display Esthero's diverse influences,

which converge in soundscapes of varied colors and textures.

"It's more or less world music -- a little bit of everything," Doc said. "Honestly, I

wanted a record that someone who's a straight reggae/hip-hop cat could feel,

as well as someone who's straight into drum & bass, as well as someone who's

straight into rock. I want a wide variety of people to put it on and feel it from front

to back."

Fans at the Roxy show expressed mixed attractions to Esthero's music. "I like

the groove," said Kami Asgar, 33. "You can listen to it all day long -- it's

been in my CD player for a month, and it translated very well live."

Wary of the inevitable comparison of Esthero's vocals to those of Icelandic

songstress Bjork, Doc said he was careful to downplay any further association

between the two musically. "I was very aware of the similarities between

Bjork [and Esthero]," he said. "I opted not to listen to her at all while we were making the

record. I tried to avoid anything that would lump us into someone else's

category.

"I want people to know we've got our own thing going."

That message came through loud and clear Tuesday.