Scout Niblett

Kidnapped by Neptune

(Too Pure; 2005)

By Sean Ford | 15 November 2007

The indie-rock songstress seems to be a dying breed of sorts. The genre’s shining light, Chan Marshall, went pseudo-folk on her last album --- which, while still quite great, was five years in the making, and only Chan knows how long the next one will take. P.J. Harvey took an unfortunate misstep with Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea and hasn’t really regained any semblance of balance. And the two legendary Kims, Deal and Gordon, are unfortunately in various states of decomposition as of this writing. So, the mini-genre has fallen on hard times of late, because while Joanna Newsom can certainly pen a song, few would mistake her stylings for anything close to "rock." And, sure, Mirah is sweet, but she lacks the edge and grit that made Marshall and Harvey so intriguing.

Enter England’s Emma Louise “Scout” Niblett.

Hitting her stride on her third album with Steve Albini, Niblett brings a heavy dose of grit to the table on Kidnapped By Neptune. Equal parts innocent, deceptively southern American-sounding folkie and dangerous heroin addict, Scout has made a schizophrenic collection of songs that veer from dusty folk to well-timed riff-infused freakouts. Critics will hear a lot of Cat Power’s Chan Marshall in Scout’s Americanized croon; and while it’s true that album’s sound does at times recall What Would the Community Think? Scout is staking out some different territory at most times, like on the fantastically catchy title track. Featuring head-bopping “shoop shoop shoops,” Scout sounds far more pop than Cat Power has in years. Yet it retains a dark side that’s indebted to Albini’s terrific, earthy production and the hammer beat of drummer Jason Kourkornis, but mostly the unsteady edge in Niblett’s voice, making her seem like she'd as soon bite you as give you a hug.

It doesn't take much stretching to hear similarities to Marshall on "Pompoms," but the song thankfully builds into a hot, slow rocker thick with squelching, Albini-friendly riffs. “Pompoms” is followed by the bizarrely epic freakout “Lullaby for Scout in 10 Years,” another slow building rocker that culminates in Scout screaming, “Honey, if you’re still aroooooooound,” revealing more layers of vocal dynamism and repressed anger with each refrain. It’s one of the first (but not last) moments on the album where she is able to shake off comparisons to earlier, more decorated indie-rock gals of yore. Other standout tracks “Fuck Treasure Island,” “Valvoline” and Fiery Furnaces-esque piano ditty “This City” feature the same vocal singularity that lend Scout’s quirky songwriting added punch.

True, Kidnapped by Neptune is overly long and ambitious, even if it is a determined step towards something far more interesting. It's most likely not the best album she'll ever make, and you can hear why when she pares these songs down; but if she's able to keep up this level of songwriting and not try to overextend herself next time around, she should be a step closer to making a truly great album.