On its striking debut, "Rabbit Songs," the Brooklyn band Hem sounds as though it set out to bankrupt its small New Jersey-based independent label. Virtually every tune here is a little alt-country symphony, an intricate tapestry of tones and textures that suggests Phil Spector producing the Cowboy Junkies' take on Aaron Copland's oeuvre. Which sounds like a disaster, precisely the kind of indulgent bilge lo-fi worked against in the first place. But these urban cowpeople seem to have approached "Rabbit Songs" as songwriters, not indiscriminate collectors of sound, and there's a sense of purpose about their music that makes its careful sonic luxuriance feel natural and hard-earned.
Singer Sally Ellyson certainly deserves credit for that: Her gorgeous singing -- warm and lullaby-ready, but also weirdly dispassionate -- anchors the band's playing, providing a human immediacy and giving all the violins and oboes somewhere to return.