You could go broke betting against the wispy, ethereal female voice in indie rock. It comes back around again and again, and Sarah O’Shura, the singer-songwriter who heads up Portland psychedelic-folk duo the Battle of Land and Sea, is the latest example—a particularly fetching one at that, as she conjures up treasure chests of ache and longing with her warbles. With guitarist Joshua Canny, she crafts a bare-bones sound— the acoustic guitar in “Saltwater Queen,” backed by a ghostly metallic whoosh and clank, is a prime example—that’s precise, smart, and anything but slight. Though this short album flags at the end, the songs have sturdy structures that withstand repeated plays: The spaghetti-western guitar that crops up on “Birdsong” and the banjo that props up the lovely lilt of “The Beautiful Ones” are thoughtful and durable surprises.
The duo’s sleepytime beauty will result in a raft of Mazzy Star comparisons, but when O’Shura turns Quarterflash’s hit “Harden My Heart” into a passive- aggressive cry, she recalls the way the Cowboy Junkies hijacked “Sweet Jane” ages ago. Here, the plaintive lyrics serve O’Shura well, especially when compared to her own slippery, impressionistic verses. With a voice and a sonic signature that evokes dark forests and lost worlds, the singer has, with a single album, established herself as another sly force not to bet against.
The Battle of Land and Sea play the Cake Shop January 16, cake-shop.com.