One of trip-hopís more elegant permutations is the romantic, post-goth blend of melancholy female vocals and electronics-dominated textural music. Portishead led the field; Luminous are the latest entry. Previously known as Brother Sun Sister Moon, the duo of singer Barbara Cohen and techno architect Paul Robb offer few surprises on their debut as Luminous but a lot of pleasures.
Foremost is Cohenís voice, which glides between purrs and cries with relaxed elegance. Then thereís the easy way that these arrangements flow by, gently matching the hope or fatalism of each track while keeping the beat alive. One signature is Robbís penchant for blending organic guitar tones into the mix. An acoustic six-string is actually the backbone of "Candle Girl," and slide-dobro licks underline the unfulfilled desire of "Salem." Those sounds contrast so effectively with the bed of synthesizers and samples that they dominate the mix without altering the musicís spirit. Likewise the cool juxtaposition of "Portlandtown," which pairs a story line plucked from the core of mountain folk music with Luminousís modern sonics. Still, itís Cohen whoís the bandís most convincing element, whether sheís inhabiting the spirit of a hillbilly wife and mother carving a hard existence from the land or ruminating like a rueful, warm-throated update of Marianne Faithfull on "In Love with Pain" ó a perfect song title for this style of wounded-soul music.