Tanya Donelly has been associated with a couple of college rock’s more prestigious projects: the Throwing Muses and, briefly, the Breeders, an alternative supergroup led by the Pixies’ Kim Deal. With Belly, Donelly at last gets a chance to hold the reins, and she succeeds admirably. The group’s debut is complex, intelligent and strange. The sound is rooted in first-generation postpunk. The core is guitar, bass and drums, with texture and chord progressions taking precedence over solos. Donelly’s singing is breathy and ethereal, like Sinead O’Connor in her less strident moments; her melodic sense is off-center, her phrasing full of surprises.
Some of the best songs on Star are moody, mysterious numbers. The band also turns out lively, catchy rockers with melodies that veer off somewhere unexpected and with lyrics (in “Feed the Tree”) like “Take your hat off boy when you’re talking to me/Be there when I feed the tree.” Donelly’s writing is veiled and elliptical throughout. In “Witch” she sings, “You’re not safe in this house…In some witch’s bed.” But the more you hear these songs, the more clues they yield. (Sire/Reprise)