8/10 Stars

Remember the climax of 10,000 Maniacs' Eat for Two when Natalie Merchant's bare voice fades from view with the fragility of a little girl? That's how Florida-based singer/songwriter Michele Ari's debut album, 85th and Nowhere, opens with the jangling first cut My Sleeping Beauty. Sounding nothing like most of today's few female alternative-rock vocalists, who are often lacking the emotional rush of their '80s predecessors, Ari has a bittersweet vocal style that is at once enigmatic and revealing.

My Sleeping Beauty spellbinds with its jagged, ringing guitars a la vintage Peter Buck and Ari's stormy-day singing. It's the perfect song for an evening drive, filled with mystery and mesmerizing chime. Please continues to the record's hypnotic pull, and it becomes obvious that there is an undeniable power in Ari's voice. Like Merchant, her vocals grab the ears and refuse to part with them. She isn't seducing the listener as much as putting them in a trance.

Nevermind and 1,000 Kisses flirt with country inspirations; however, the bulk of 85th and Nowhere is a throwback to moody mid-'80s college rock. The self-deprecating Pretty is Ari's little masterpiece, as haunting as the Velvet Underground's Femme Fatale. It's a track that R.E.M. will probably want to cover, too. Ari's melancholic singing on Pretty is heartbreaking and astonishing.