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The Places

Portland, Oregon's The Places has mastered the arts of subtle elegance and understated beauty in a way that few bands can. It all starts with singer Amy Annelle's quiet ripple of a voice. It's a voice in constant motion, like a rushing river or a summer breeze or a seagull aloft, but it never misses a step, gliding along with impeccable grace. The rest of the band follows the lead of her voice with equal assurance. Annelle accompanies herself on acoustic guitar, while Ryan Stowe adds a wonderfully expressive electric guitar that is by turns gently muted, fuzzy and brash, sad and forlorn, and sharply angular. A supporting cast of local Portland musicians fills out the band with drums, assorted percussion instruments, and mournful dirge-like strings.

The Places' debut record, The Autopilot Knows You Best, came out on Absolutely Kosher in 2000. It's an absolute delight: a slow-motion parade of lyrical ingenuity and moments of surprising beauty intercut by odd, quirky vocal samples and bits of random noise that somehow work to draw out the music's innate intimacy. The sweet and sour lament "The Projectionist" and the dense, chiaroscuro "Mission Impossible," both from that album, illustrate The Places' remarkable talent for delicate yet tough arrangements and lovely, memorable melodies.