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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Shoe: I’m Okay (Community Records)

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Among actorly forays into music, The Shoe is closer in spirit to She & Him than to Dogstar, and not just because Jena Malone is much less famous than Keanu Reeves, nor because both The Shoe and She & Him are duos. It’s mainly because Malone takes her singer-songwriter work seriously and has chosen a genuine collaborator in keyboardist and producer Lem Jay Ignacio. Together, they give The Shoe’s first full-length, I’m Okay, a soft and stark approach.

Softness emerges the moment Malone sings: If her voice is not quite waifish, its cracks, hesitations and dying falls convey a shyness at odds with her primary profession. Yet the ear keeps coming back to her singing the way the eye locates her not-quite-waifish presence onscreen. Starkness emerges from the music: Even when “Indian Giver” starts thumping like a trip-hop track, it doesn’t threaten to overtake and submerge Malone, although there are moments when she seems to want that.

What she wants more is human contact, a yearning that one doesn’t have to live near Hollywood to understand.

On the opening title song, with a piano tracing her halting steps, she moves from floods of tears to a wry view of modern communication and a slow assertion of strength. On “His Gorgeousness,” drawn-out bass notes and a snap-clap rhythm accompany her naked, engulfing, unrequited desire.

And on perhaps the best track, “Broken Hearted Love Song,” Malone and Ignacio recall early Violent Femmes ventures into country and western and also recall the days before indie, when the likes of John Cale and Nico had to labor toward this kind of simplicity. The Shoe has not created a major work: Everything is minor key and genteel and dear. Nevertheless, I’m Okay is a title that speaks too modestly for an album that is actually very good.