Record Review 

Snakebite, the third album from moody, passionate Los Angeles chanteuse Eleni Mandell, finds the young singer's superlative vocal and songwriting skills ideally matched to producer Brian Kehew's sinister, Tom Waitsian arrangements. On the lead-off "Dreamboat," Mandell's voice drifts like mist over chilly water, gracefully afloat above the hollow wooden twang of her guitar; meanwhile, X's Don Bonebrake adds subtle vibraphone accents. The title track's rattling percussion is especially well suited to Mandell's lyrics, which compare a lover's embrace to the squeeze of a python's coils and his kiss to the toothy attentions of an adder.

Mandell's singing is showcased to memorable effect on "Alien Eye," a breathy barrage of precise, otherworldly vocal gymnastics, and her compositional skills burn brightly on "Man in the Paper Hat," a remarkably effective torch song about a restaurant bus boy who dreams "of tables and stacking chairs." Rich in imagery drawn from Mandell's own waitressing stints, the song benefits from a minimalist arrangement accented by Melora Creager's mournful cello and Lee Thornberg's perfectly positioned trumpet breaks.

But Snakebite's finest moments come during "Silverlake Babies," a tribute to Bladerunner author Philip K. Dick. Mandell's "lavender bright sky" shudders to sonic life with twinkling starlight accents from pedal steel, keyboards and vibes. A ghostly lullaby, it's bound to leave even the most jaded listener dreamy with visions of electric sheep, and delirious from Snakebite's intoxicating venom.

Eleni Mandell performs at The Earl, Thurs., March 21.


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