Toronto-based artist Zabeth Dkos slams out of the gate with “Dirtier Than Sin,” the first single from her debut album, Unsigned Undefined Unapologetic. The supercharged, muscular production combines with hyper-sexual lyrics for an arresting opening statement. From that point on, Dkos mines a groovy dance/rock vibe, stirring a few introspective ballads into the mix. For a point of reference, fans of Nikka Costa, Prince, and Gwen Stefani should take note.
Speaking of Stefani, Dkos’s voice has been accurately compared to the No Doubt frontwoman (check the chorus of “You’re Early” for a particularly uncanny resemblance). At times, she also seems to be channeling Rickie Lee Jones. However, it must be said that Dkos retains her own somewhat peculiar vocal flavor. Often a bit wispy, she reserves a more powerful sound for key moments. The contrast works well, as on the slow-build ballad, “A Sign.”
The album shifts through a variety of moods. “Dream With Me,” a poignant look back on a once vibrant relationship, provides the album’s strongest hook with its soaring chorus. The aforementioned “A Sign,” a ballad with somewhat ambiguous lyrics, is reminiscent of Prince (think of his woefully underrated One Night Alone … solo piano album). “Unloved” warns against leaving the needs of one’s partner unfulfilled, telling the story of an affair with a married man. Musically the song is a change of pace, an acoustic-driven rockabilly shuffle.
Despite the quieter moments, Dkos seems most at home when propelling a danceable beat. In addition to “Dirtier Than Sin,” the hardest-hitting grooves are “Helena” and “Slave.” The latter boasts some of Dkos’s strongest singing, particularly on the anguished bridge that climaxes the song.
All 12 songs were written and arranged by Dkos. She handled much of the instrumentation as well, playing piano, various keyboards, bass, and drum programming. Effectively amping up the rock edge is the guitar work of Michael Hampson. Production duties were shared primarily by Dkos and Stephen Stepanic (joined by Chris McNeill on a handful of cuts).
Zabeth Dkos first caught my attention with her deeply felt cover of Prince’s “Sometimes It Snows In April” (not on the album, but a quick Google search will point you in the right direction). In my opinion, this song is Prince’s masterpiece; it’s the kind of song better left untouched by others. Yet so moving was Dkos’s version, I absolutely wanted to hear more of her work. Unsigned Undefined Unapologetic is definitely worth seeking out and readily available at numerous online retailers. For more information, visit Zabeth Dkos on MySpace and Facebook.