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Head and heart

Poppet is a one-woman band that feels fuller than an orchestra

Poppet makes minimalist music in an expansive way. Photo credit: Facebook

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I recall an interview with indie rock vet Andrew Bird where he was talking about St. Vincent -- specifically, about Annie Clark, the frontwoman and mastermind behind the project -- where he talked about how happy he was to see her moving away from her more clinical, mathematical composition of progressive music and increasingly drawing from emotional songwriting. Veer too far in the direction of technical prowess, and yes, we're treated to pyrotechnic displays of musical performance, but it becomes harder to connect with on any level beyond an intellectual one. Clark was able to marry the two extremes in a way that made her brand of compositionally complex art-rock more heartfelt and enriching.

There are countless artists that have found themselves at this crossroads of head and heart, with most erring to one side or the other, and precious few managing to toe the line down the middle. One such artist is Poppet, a one-woman band made up of Molly Raney, who's established residence in California, Portland, Oakland and, most recently, Colorado. The first time I ever saw her was years ago at the New Frontier Lounge. I had helped the great Tender Forever arrange a show in town, and she had brought along Poppet as her opener. What I was not prepared for was just how unique and enthralling Poppet would turn out to be, basically stealing the show from the wonderfully engaging Tender Forever and the debut performance of Tacoma favorites Mirrorgloss.

What made Poppet an impressively fun show was the way in which she so deftly married carefully constructed songs and the looseness of a live set. Working solo, Poppet builds her songs with looped vocals and keyboards, creating a lushly orchestrated sound that is nevertheless bound to the constrictions of having to do it on the fly. Layered on top of that is Poppet's physical presence, frequently performing in either a bright onesie or a formal dress -- the effect making Poppet appear as a girl very sincerely putting on the kind of show that might well be taking place in the living room of a grown-up party. It all evens out into a sort of extravagant minimalist affair; one wonders what might happen if Poppet were given free reign to command an orchestra.

Poppet has just released a new LP, Mirror Age, which has inspired an accompanying tour. On the album, she achieves what St. Vincent had done, bringing the head and the heart in on a venture that manages to access universal sentiments while never failing to be musically diverting. As a singer-songwriter and performer, Poppet has always been planted firmly in the camp of folks like Bjork and Kate Bush, and that remains the same here, but her lyrical output has become increasingly specific to Molly Raney the person. The third track on Mirror Age, "Built a Wall of It," features a message that must be shared by so many people, while also feeling plainly confessional: "I need something to distract myself, ‘cuz I don't get s@#t done anymore." A simple sentiment like that -- one to which anyone with any sort of creative pursuit can relate -- gets blown up to theatrical heights with Poppet.

Joining Poppet this Tuesday at the Valley is Doofy Doo, who would be notable just for his beautifully silly name, but also has a deep catalog of experimental indie rock, including a series of albums created in 15 towns of a west coast tour. Tacoma's own Axi-Ohm rounds out the show, with their oddball electronica. If there were ever a Tuesday when you might be encouraged to drag yourself out of your house, this would be the one.

Poppet, w/ Doofy Doo, Axi-Ohm, 8 p.m., Tuesday, Dec. 12, $5, The Valley, 1206 Puyallup Ave., Tacoma, 253.248.4265,

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