Sign up for our free newsletter
Free D.C. news, delivered to your inbox daily.
Like Jimmy Page and Robert Plant, Kendra Smith has returned from a long absence with harmonium and Middle Eastern drums adorning material that has changed surprisingly little. Smith, early-’80s L.A. paisley undergrounder par excellence, has not released any music in three years, and only an EP since ’87. This self-imposed exile from recording seems to have broadened Smith’s aural palette, and Five Ways demonstrates a pleasantly eclectic, acoustic/electric approach to a familiar style. The drone ethic is very much in force on the album, but Smith varies the material enough to keep the longish songs from getting monotonous: The jazzy “Drunken Boat” and the cabaret-style “Maggots” offer salutary counterpoint to the more typically psychedelic “Aurelia” and “Space: Unadorned.” On the other hand, “Temporarily Lucy” and “In Your Head” are surprisingly poppy, with Smith adopting the childlike vocal style so distressingly in vogue; the gesture sounds like a nod to her amazingly influential 4AD labelmates the Breeders, but Smith has the restraint to avoid embarrassing herself by copping her musical descendants’ sound.