After more vamping on this neurotic apologia, the 19-year-old Apple - clad in brown work pants and a halter top that looked like it came from her lingerie drawer - began singing ``Sleep to Dream,'' another of the vitriolic mini-dramas on her debut, Tidal. Within seconds, all of the self-doubt she had expressed was forgotten: Here was a woman engaged in the hard work of living independently, serving notice in the fiercest terms available that she would control her circumstances. ``Don't come around,'' she bellowed at a former lover. ``I got my own hell to raise.''
Musically, at least, Apple knows exactly what she's doing. She introduced the smoldering songs of Tidal with moving stories about their origins, her candor lifting the music to new emotional plateaus. She gave ``The First Taste'' a Sade-like sensuality, and toyed with a bad-girl pose for ``Criminal.'' Though she didn't hit every ad-lib just right, she forged on undaunted, whether cooing softly and jazzily in the margins of ``Pale September'' or conjuring a bluesy Janis Joplin moan for ``Shadowboxing.'' At every step, Apple's adroit five-piece band supported her improvised whims, and decorated her sometimes-monochromatic melodies with colorful ensemble interplay.
Even more engaging was Morcheeba, the British pop-soul band whose U.S. debut, Who Can You Trust?, is one of the year's surprises. Morcheeba's songs center on vocalist Skye Edwards, but rely on the unshakable groove of a five-piece rhythm section well-acquainted with the concept of a slow boil. If Erykah Badu is the Billie Holiday of the new soul movement, Edwards is its Dinah Washington - a mesmerizingly patient singer who invests the hypnotic loops of ``Never an Easy Way'' with lingering, unanswered yearning.