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Pretty Pop Finds Its Sinister Side

First Place!!!

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Tuesday's Pick

  • Song: "First Place!!!"
  • Artist: Chris Garneau
  • CD: Music for Tourists, out Jan. 23
  • Genre: Folk-Pop

Chris Garneau restricts his soft voice to starts and stutters. hide caption

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Brooklyn's Chris Garneau represents a rare breed of pop pianist — the kind of musician whose unsparing compositions sound far removed from piano bars and sterile hotel lobbies. Not content with musical convention, Garneau restricts his soft voice to starts and stutters, as if it refuses to leave his lips. At its most fluttery, it brings to mind the likes of Elliott Smith and Sufjan Stevens, but while his work does contain a touch of Stevens' gift for majestically orchestral arrangements, Garneau breaks free of easy comparisons in "First Place!!!"

At home with both pop singer Duncan Sheik (who produced Music for Tourists) and Xiu Xiu's far less accessible Jamie Stewart (a close friend), Garneau straddles the line between pretty piano pop and something far more sinister. His skillful piano work demonstrates versatility and restraint, while his sweet voice sounds positively deadly as he whispers, "You have killed them / and you don't know why / Your lips, they move / and they only lie." Garneau relies on minimal instrumentation — a smattering of piano and cello, to go with his dangerously beautiful voice — and the result is a chilling disquiet.

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