Five years ago Poe released her debut, Hello, a session that scored well with alternative radio by mixing rock with womanhood without substantially diluting either. You could drink, hoot and holler, or contemplate with equal ease to the disc; not surprisingly, it went gold. Hello was supported by a fair amount of road work, which served Poe well, her onstage persona being at once compelling and touchable.

Now comes Haunted, with Poe setting out on a self-proclaimed "journey towards intimacy." The purpose, it seems, is twofold: getting to better know her late father, documentary filmmaker and lecturer Tad Danielewski, and gaining a better understanding of herself. What's more, Haunted bears thematic links to brother Mark Z. Danielewski's recently published debut novel, House of Leaves. It's not a soundtrack per se, according to the authors, but a separate work derived from the same starting point.

Given all this, it should come as no surprise that Poe has pulled back on the rock quotient somewhat. The first single, "Walk the Walk," captures much of the fire of Hello-era material, drawing liberally from '80s hair-band phrasings with an openness that few could execute in the year 2000. "Terrified Heart" follows on the disc, giving a nod to foreboding lounge pop; the forward motion is there, and so is the hook, but the darkness swallows both.

Such is the case with Haunted as a whole, not that it's altogether bleak or anything. It creates the same sensation that your average day on too little sleep does: some good moments, some bad, but all overwrought. The problem, rather, is that the songs -- the music even -- have been mistreated, all in the pursuit of "atmosphere." It seems important that one understand very well, and very literally, how Poe's father shaped her.

Hardly a track goes by without some between-song excerpt from the senior Danielewski's spoken-word recordings, discovered by the siblings after his death in 1993. These, in turn, are accented with swooshing, beeping and rattling noises. The purpose is noble, and the effect at times downright spooky. But when you're dealing with a CD on which the vast majority of the songs are in some way memorable -- if also generally more ethereal than anything found on Hello -- the splices feel like needless distractions.

Maybe in some dreamworld an edited version could be released featuring just the songs. The art and mission might be diluted, but the music would shine.

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Chris Smith