"I LIKE the dichotomy between the sinister and playful," says Molly Raney, the Davis, California-based musician behind Poppet. With a name that has origins in both Middle English terms of endearment and black magic sorcery, it's perhaps natural that Poppet's music would work with opposing forces. It's as infectious as it is unusual; Raney uses vintage synths, an operatic vocal range, and a host of loop pedals, drum machines, and percussion instruments to create music where wild abandon and dark emotions go hand-in-hand.

Raney began Poppet in 2008 playing fun synth-pop, but the project has since evolved to include elements more reflective of Raney's classical training and penchant for experimentation. Though commonly compared to Björk and Grimes, Poppet isn't easily pigeonholed—a fact that's most striking onstage, where the entity that is Poppet comes to life.

From the beginning, Poppet performances have been notable affairs. Early shows were high-energy journeys led by a demented child persona riding out a sugar high in an ice skating costume. But as the years have gone by, a darker, more serious side has emerged. The songs have become more emotionally complex, while the costumes and stage presentation have started to lean more toward sorceress or warrior than figure skater. But above all, Poppet's shows are always completely unique, earning Raney a reputation as an impressive live performer. She doesn't want to build up anyone's ideas of what it will be, though. "I always tell people to have no expectations," she says. "Expectations increase your likelihood of disappointment, and I'm not out to disappoint anyone."

While her first studio album, The Blue Sky Is Always Blue—15 joy-inducing songs written largely during Poppet's early years—was just released in March on Olympia's Bicycle Records, she isn't lingering in that success. An unstoppably prolific songwriter, Raney is always looking to the future. In the fall, she'll be releasing a 12-inch on Swiss label Le Bal Records, as well as a split tape with her tour mates Pregnant (of which she's also a member), with more to come. "There's always a continuous backlog of material," Raney says. "I am working simultaneously on my second, third, and fourth albums."