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space, as they say, is a place. For Sun Ra, who coined the phrase butchered just there, space was a cosmically colorful place, full of alien joyrides and unexplored planets. But space can be dark and cold, lifeless and lonely. Seattle's Tiny Vipers, aka singer-songwriter Jesy Fortino, is an intrepid explorer of this latter kind of space, a lone, slow-drifting voice in the void whose glacially paced and galactically spacious folk songs almost make all that nothingness feel comfortably lulling.
The title of her sophomore album, Life on Earth (out this week on Sub Pop), suggests perhaps a more vital, material world than what was grappled with on debut Hands Across the Void, but like that album, Earth's defining feature is a feeling of absence, of space. Earth hangs alone in the blackness; life is surrounded by death's shadow.
On opening track "Eyes Like Ours," Fortino sings, in her slightly, oddly accented voice (Canadian? Midwestern? Werewolf?), about when "the world was still young... just a small town." On the title track—the album's centerpiece at over 10 minutes long—over an ominous, slightly western, slightly medieval melody, Fortino sings, "I call out to the night/Though I can see that there's nothing at all."
There's also more literal space—the chasms of stillness in between Fortino's spare guitar picking and low, intoned, hollowly resonant vocals, the distances implied in their echoing. The album is just over an hour long, but its songs unspool and stretch out so patiently as to feel like an eternity (not necessarily a bad thing—music's ability to alter your sense of time is one of its great traits).
Which is not to say the album is all somnolence and pitch-black. Though the chords are melancholy and the lyrics are typically dour (and maybe a touch supernatural), Fortino's singing flickers from sullen hum to a high, arcing spark, her voice giving off some subtle warmth against the vast night.