Review: Abileen, "Abileen"

The debut record from Kansas City's Abileen marks the return of founding Frogpond singer/songwriter Heidi Phillips. For those unfamiliar with the band, a brief history:

  • Forms in 1994 in Warrensburg, Mo., as an all-female foursome.
  • Signs to Tristar Records in 1996 with Everclear's Art Alexakis producing debut national release.
  • Tours with Goo Goo Dolls and Sugar Ray. Plays afterparty for R.E.M.'s "Monster" tour at the request of Mike Mills.
  • Replaces two chicks with two dudes in 1999 and makes a second album with Columbia Records.
  • Splits up in 2000. Phillips vows to not play music for a very long time.

Four years later, Phillips is back with guitarist/vocalist Marty Robertson (the only former member of Frogpond), bassist Danny Krane and drummer Jeff McGuiness. Abileen revisits much of what made Frogpond successful: memorable choruses, dueling electric guitars, solid rhythmic sensibilities and strong harmonies.

The album's six tracks recall popular female-fronted '90s alternative bands like Belly, Juliana Hatfield or Throwing Muses, though Americana influences like Lucinda Williams seem to lurk around the perimeter. Phillips' voice sounds beaten-down and desperate, incapable of hiding the effects of years spent in front of a microphone and the ensuing emotional toll.

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"Crazy and Losin' It" is the standout track, with a brilliant chorus that features the seasoned vocal duo of Phillips and Robertson. The introspective "Abilene" is also a winner, with a slow-building approach that offers more optimism than the rest of the album combined.

That being said, one shouldn't look to "Abileen" for cheery pop music. The album is largely stacked with doleful rock songs like "House of Gold" or "The Secret," and good news is a rare commodity upon Phillip's canvas. But if honesty is what informs great rock music, there's more than enough of that here to transcend any trend or genre from Frogpond to Abileen and beyond.

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