Writing music either to avoid getting a conventional job, or to escape the monotony of one, is hardly anything new, but there was a point at which Aly Spaltro decided to turn a diversion into an excursion, taking what she knew and running with it. She has what used to be a killer shift at a DVD store in Portland to thank for getting to where she is today, not to mention a good deal of subterfuge. She used to give away her early recordings at the shop in which she worked, never letting on that she was their creator. It's been years since then, but Spaltro's early work as Lady Lamb the Beekeeper got her noticed, but she's now a treasured part of Portland's musical landscape, and now that she's gotten the whole business of recording an album out of the way, she's ready to take on the rest of the US, and the UK too. Actually, pretty much anywhere she wants; in a career like this, one needs confidence to survive, but Spaltro goes beyond mere confidence, instead tipping over into complete devotion to her craft, and Ripely Pine is a true labour of love.

Still not convinced? In that case, you'd do well to check out 'Bird Balloons', one of the songs on here which directly references her project's origins ("I'm a ghost, and you won't know it / I'm singing songs, and I ain't slowing"), but is also a reflection on a rough break-up, brutally honest lyrics set against a backdrop of chugging riffs and assertive rhythms, packing in multiple tempo changes and dynamic shifts, as well as a breakneck-pace finale, all in six minutes. Spaltro knows exactly what she's about, and while her moniker suggests that her album will be a charmingly twee listen, it's anything but. It's packed with energy and an inventive, spirited sound, opening with a gentle acoustic passage before bursting into life as 'Hair to the Ferris Wheel' gets going, with the expansive-sounding 'Aubergine' following as the album hits its stride quite early on. Spaltro even manages to fit that most maligned of instruments, the banjo, into 'Regarding Ascending the Stairs', but she's hardly one for hoedowns; the sparse backing gives her room to deliver some of the most cutting lyrics on the album.

The album is quite a diverse affair; for instance, the guitar-driven epic 'You Are the Apple' sits next to the comparatively brief, melancholic 'Mezzanine', with the acoustic tenderness of 'Little Brother' succeeding it. Despite the many changes of pace and instrumentation, however, Ripely Pine is cohesive and collected, never once losing the run of itself and buoyed by the strength of its individual songs. Spaltro is in fine voice throughout, her delivery powerful even when she's at her most reserved - and when she really lets go, such as on 'Crane Your Neck', she's something to behold. Penultimate track 'The Nothing Part II' is arguably the most pop-oriented song on the album, but then again, the record's hardly impenetrable to begin with. Spaltro's voice and lyrics are what make Ripely Pine what it is: a highly impressive and sometimes flat-out stunning listen, with emotion dripping from every note. She may have come to music through unconventional means, but an album as accomplished as this should have her name on everyone's lips before too much longer.