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I first heard Kristin Allen-Zito, Bellingham’s indie queen about five years ago. A profound serendipity, I stumbled into an acoustic set at the now-defunct Bay Street Coffee House, and was immediately besotted. I am not usually one for femme folksingers, but there was something vulnerable at work that arrested my attention. Having cemented my allegiance by securing a copy of her solo debut Helium, I hoped for a second helping that seemed more unlikely with each passing year. A foray into punk-rock, her group The Trucks rocked and then disbanded, with Allen-Zito seeking refuge in New York and leaving a void in the Northwest music scene.
Two years later, and Allen-Zito has returned with a new album, The Atlas, on hand for her coronation as homecoming queen. It’s been a busy couple of weeks – Allen-Zito has played a flurry of shows to promote the release of her new album in Seattle, Bellingham, and most recently an impromptu reunion show with her riot grrrl electro-clash group The Trucks in Olympia.
Having sampled the bright lights of the Big Apple, Allen-Zito gives a nod to the City of Subdued Excitement by releasing The Atlas on her hometown label, Clickpop records. The gap-toothed, shit-spittin’ dance machine has ditched the toilet paper wings for a more accessible sound, which is not a departure from her former works so much as a return to her modus operandi that has the TIG staff squeeing in delight.
The Atlas opens with it’s eponymous first track, which is an engaging song with an undercurrent of well-measured snares and electronic tinkling that binds the different layers together perfectly – you’ll be singing along by the second verse. If you feel an earworm twisting about halfway through, fret not – "Utah" was formerly setlist stock but has been allowed to percolate and come to fruition – the reworked version is well worth the wait. A much fuller sound than previous acoustic releases Jen and Kristin or Helium, Allen-Zito employs a warm harmony of strings to serve as the backdrop to her sweet vocals and front-porch strumming.
Themes explored within the album are much what you would come to expect from a veteran of coffee-house ballads – love, stormy coastline imagery, and the quintessential Pacific Northwest experience of riding your bike through the rain. If I were to suggest an alternate title for this release, it would probably be Water – the element is mentioned in over half of the songs on the album, be it through churning waves, gathering puddles or slowly forming ice crystals.
There is plenty of country in "Pedaling My Bike", which is a little too ripe with bluegrass notes for my taste, but straightforward and charming nonetheless. Allen-Zito serves up the sass on "Pushups", which is the closest the album comes to rock and employs a swaggering choir and punchy percussion to boot. The twee factor has been reigned in just enough to let this album flow freely, until the tongue-in-cheek "Underside of Heaven" ends, signalling it's time to hit repeat once again.
Perfect for rainy bus trips, the clinking of warm teacups and musing over crushes, Allen-Zito ushers in the winter season with this new release – pick up a copy and squee over it today, and then catch her live at one of these intimate shows:
December 3 2010, 8pm - WWU Underground Coffee House, w/ Cumulus – free all-ages show (Bellingham)
December 7 2010, 8pm - KUGS 89.3fm live show and interview (Bellingham)
December 7 2010, 9pm – The Wild Buffalo, support for Fences (Bellingham)