Paula Frazer has one of those voices. You know… one of those voices, the kind that you want to wrap around yourself like a nice warm blanket on a cold winter night with a cup of warm tea. Rich and deep, Frazer’s vocals can be seductive and enticing, but more often than not, she uses them to inspire longing and unrequited love. Whenever her voice begins to fluctuate, somewhere halfway between yodeling and a pained sigh, just be ready for your heart to actually turn over as Frazer makes all of her pining yours.
Frazer first came into her own as the primary vocalist and songwriter of the under-appreciated Tarnation, quite possibly the finest country group to ever come from 4AD’s wide open spaces. Wedding a Southern Gothic-tinged sound that bled moonshine and Americana with Frazer’s “ghost of Patsy Cline” vocals, Tarnation’s music was as creepy and spine-tingling as it was heartbreaking.
On Indoor Universe, Frazer’s first recording under her own name (following collaborations with The Czars, Cornershop, and Handsome Boy Modeling School), Frazer ditches much of Tarnation’s sepia-tinted sound. Well, “ditched” is probably too strong a term. “Redirected” is probably better. It’s still there, but more of an undercurrent than anything else, insuring that, if nothing else, Frazer’s songs will always have a bit of heartache at their core.
“Gone” feels oddly like something Spiritualized might attempt in its “Appalachian” phase, with restrained horn and percussion flourishes, and Frazer’s rich voice in place of J. Spaceman’s lethargic one. “Not So Bad, But Not So Good” starts off with a rollicking piano melody and includes one of the hottest clarinet solos you’re likely to hear all year, but Frazer’s wistful voice and lyrics (“Anytime you feel that you’ve been wrong/Let me be the one who’ll come along/Just in case you might change your mind”) keeps it from being too jaunty. And “Deep Was the Night” might just be the spy romance theme that Morricone always wanted to write.
All that being said, Indoor Universe’s strongest material is that which doesn’t stray too far from Tarnation’s property. “Stay as You Are” melds Frazer’s haunting vocals with an equally haunting organ, creating one of the most perfect choruses I’ve heard in a long time. Frazer’s vocal melody is such that this ode to nostalgic romance takes a simple lyric (“Stay as you are to me, Stay as you are/Never let the world take you too far”) and sets it to resonate with your own memories like you wouldn’t believe.
In truth, Frazer’s voice is what truly sells this album for me. It’s not surprising that she grew up singing in her father’s choir as a girl; her voice easily takes on a soulful, religious air, even when pining after her man. Even on lyrics that could fall into trite cliché (e.g., “For me, he’s the only one/He is the only one/So I am the lonely one”), Frazer’s vocals guarantee the song to be a theme for the lovelorn everywhere (like every other song on here).