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Allison Ponthier, 'Hell Is A Crowded Room'

Allison Ponthier is the latest would-be It Girl of the In-Between. She locates herself in that space of psychic uncertainty with the first line of this slow ballad about wallowing in social anxiety, as she stands apart in a crowd of strangers pressed shoulder to shoulder, longing for the gentle oblivion of loneliness.

With "Hell is a Crowded Room," Ponthier invokes Chris Isaak invoking Roy Orbison, Cat Power invoking Peggy Lee, Lana Del Rey invoking every singer David Lynch ever ushered onto the stage of Twin Peaks's Bang Bang Bar. This is all eerily familiar and feels a bit calculated — signed to Interscope, Ponthier's been working with LDR's early collaborator Rick Nowels (among other A-list songwriters) ahead of her debut album. Yet, the 24-year-old native Texan pulls "Hell is a Crowded Room" back from the edge of cliche with a winning ardor not often heard in this neurasthenic kind of song. "Every free fall I put myself through, is it worth all of the fear to sing the truth?" she wails in the song's bridge. Yes, she concludes, letting her convictions solidify. Suddenly the song becomes not just a style exercise, but a totally relatable moment of pathos.

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Ann Powers is NPR Music's critic and correspondent. She writes for NPR's music news blog, The Record, and she can be heard on NPR's newsmagazines and music programs.
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