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Rhythm & Views

Bitter:Sweet

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On its second album, this Los Angeles-based act proves depth is possible on a good trip-hop recording, bringing freshness to a tired genre.

The rococo arrangements draw from classic pop, ragtime jazz, spy-movie soundtracks, French cabaret music, Cold War-era Latin dance rhythms and campy-but-cool Playboy After Dark-style lounge music. Through it all, Bitter:Sweet works a groove capable of competing with Portishead, Hooverphonic and Sneaker Pimps.

Bitter:Sweet is ostensibly a duo composed of vocalist Shana Halligan (daughter of Blood, Sweat and Tears' Dick Halligan) and producer-arranger Kiran Shahani (a founding member of the Supreme Beings of Leisure), but they become a five-piece live. Their tunes have found their way onto TV programs Grey's Anatomy and Law and Order and into the film The Devil Wears Prada.

Among the best tracks is the bubbly, horn-infused "The Bomb," on which Halligan's charming purr actually splits the difference between Billie Holiday and Marilyn Monroe. Elsewhere, on such cuts as "Drama" and "A Moment," thick and lush string arrangements impart the music with a rich, continental flavor.

Perhaps the most fascinating is "Sugar Mama," in which Halligan plays the coquette while refusing to finance a musician boyfriend's laziness. The music sounds not unlike a pop standard from a classic Broadway musical, but updated for a 21st-century dance club.

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