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BEL CANTO (Buy CDs by this artist)
White-Out Conditions (Bel. Crammed Discs) 1987 (Can. Nettwerk) 1988
Birds of Passage (Can. Nettwerk) 1989 (Nettwerk/IRS) 1990

The name is Italian ("beautiful song"), but this trio hails from Norway, sings mostly in English and was originally signed by an artsy Belgian label. Bel Canto's songs are delicate soundscapes that effectively blend orchestral and folk instruments with electronic keyboards and computer-driven synths. On the first LP, Anneli Marian Drecker sings in a fairly limited but not unpleasant alto, a new age Siouxsie Sioux with a slight accent and voice lessons. White-Out Conditions offers a decent variety of material, from Enoesque pop ("Blank Sheets") to somewhat clichéd electro-noodling ("Upland"), but the surprise is "Agassiz," an Arabic-flavored dancefloor oddity.

Drecker stretches out her falsetto more on Birds of Passage, but she has all she can do to keep from being buried in the thick orchestration crafted by bandmates Nils Johansen and Geir Jenssen (plus guests playing everything from flugelhorn to bouzouki). Fans of the Cocteau Twins, Minimal Compact, Virginia Astley and other chamber-rock artists should feel at home with Bel Canto, although the trio adds more bite where necessary. Intriguing stuff.

[David Sheridan]