Like the kiwi, the male falsetto is a contrarian bird: undeniably earthbound, and a little odd and shy.
Lately, though, it's resurfaced as the vocal instrumental of choice for several high-profile musicians in the indie scene. Bon Iver's Justin Vernon adopts a spectral tone, which provides contrast to his grittier tenor whenever he switches register. Jonsi Birgisson, the frontman of Icelandic post-rockers Sigur Ros, sings like an angel, especially when most of what he sings is in Hopelandic, a made-up language.
Add Adam Torres to this coterie. On the Austin-based singer- songwriter's second album, Pearls To Swine, his voice isn't so much gravity-defying as searching. It sings of the environment, its bountiful gifts and the terrible damages wrought by mankind.
It feels unfettered from the trends of the day, particularly the type of electronic manipulation used to create a sort of vocal artifice.
Named after a Biblical quotation, which means "to waste something good on someone who doesn't care about it", the album is a treatise on ecology and the human commitment to the blue planet.
INDIE FOLK/ COUNTRY
PEARLS TO SWINE
His voice becomes his channel of communication. In Juniper Arms, you barely make out the words as his voice travels through troughs and peaks of the topography as a correlative to his own growth.
"Carry me down/Down from the stars/Wrap me around/Juniper arms," he sings, as if addressing the halo of mystique that has surrounded him since his debut, Nostra Nova, released only when he was 20, when he was a student in Athens, Ohio.
Everything else is in minor key, ranging from his decorous guitar plucking to the plaintive violin sawing in the background. It's a love letter to Albuquerque, where he was born to a mother raised in a Native American reservation and a father from a Mexican-American family who claims Apache chief Geronimo as a distant relative.
Whereas someone like Nick Cave will elevate the elements into a mini- Greek opera about brimstone, revenge and redemption, Torres prefers a quieter, less obvious but no less powerful dialogue between the known and the unknowable, life and the afterlife. Together with his band members, percussionist Thor Harris (of Swans and Shearwater), violinist Aisha Burns and bassist-pianist Dailey Toliver, they weave a cinematic paean to the universe, spiritual and physical.
In bucolic ramblers such as Morning Rain and Outlands, Torres lets his wandering voice reflect the ever-shifting textures of nature. The music and voice mimic the rain and the wandering winds as they come into contact with earth.
"I'm trying to find my way back home," he sings in Mountain River, his falsetto diving in and out of the lovely strums, until the album ends with City Limits.
Here, the itinerant has reached the boundary between man and wilderness, his voice more restful and no longer so wont to flights of fancy. But is this home, it appears to ask.