His voice was sweet enough to often be mistaken for a woman's, and his songwriting was strong enough to earn him a deal with one of the country's most influential indie-rock record labels.

Jeff Hanson's rising career came to a sudden end Friday, when he was found dead at his apartment in St. Paul.

Hanson, 31, likely died from a fall or other accident at the concrete-floored apartment, which he had just moved into days earlier, said his sister, Sara Hanson. He was found by his parents.

"He was very excited to show off his new place to my parents and show how well he was doing," Sara Hanson said.

Hanson rose to underground fame in 2003 when he was signed to Kill Rock Stars, the Olympia, Wash.-based label that launched Sleater-Kinney and Elliott Smith. His soft, effeminate voice caught the attention of the label's staff, which then flew him out for a test gig, he said in 2005.

"I think they wanted to see if I sang like that for real," Hanson quipped.

He released three records for the label, including last year's "Madam Owl" and an eponymous 2005 album that earned a 7.8 rating out of 10 from trendsetting music blog PitchforkMedia.com.

Around the Twin Cities, Hanson frequently headlined the Triple Rock, Turf Club or 7th Street Entry. He toured the West Coast and Scandinavia this spring with fellow songwriter Chris Koza.

"He went a lot farther than a lot of local musicians ever get, whether it was recording for Kill Rock Stars or playing to 400 people in Japan," said Minneapolis booking agent Paul Gillis.

Hanson, who grew up in Waukesha, Wis., divorced last year and did not have any children -- "besides his two dogs," said Sara Hanson, who emphasized that her brother never had any trouble with substance abuse. Funeral arrangements have not been made pending the medical examiner's investigation.

Chris Riemenschneider • 612-673-4658