Circle of Swallows

When she’s not crafting the kinds of eclectic, electro-tinged earth-child folk fantasias heard on this, her second album, James choreographs her own modern dance troupe. That might explain songs like “Dancing out of the Dark” and lines like “dancing animals /
entwining animals / in cuneiform and ruin,” though really, Swallows defies easy explanation. James sets bold, mystical lyrics to clattering bits of percussion and off-kilter keyboard programming, turning coffeehouse-chanteuse tropes inside out. Nearly every song brings something unexpected—Celtic flute on “Icarus,” jazzy sax and drums on “Today in the City”—and as far as constants go, her imperfectly lilting voice is anything but conventional. She’s an original—and her troupe must be something to see.

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