Sunday May 2nd, 2004

A review of Karyn Ellis' "Bird"

The limited-run packaging of this CD is not only a triumph of indie artist creativity but also a perfect illustration of what's inside. The jewel case is actually cut from corrugated cardboard with a simple, hand-painted image of a coffee cup on the cover. On the back, a paintbrush-swirled condensation ring from the bottom of the cup. The sleeve that holds the CD is a coffee filter.

The only missing touch is the autograph I hope to get when I finally see Karyn Ellis perform live someday.

Like the packaging, the music is beautiful in what sounds like such simple arrangements, but when you take a closer look, there's magic in all the intricate details. Even on acoustic guitar and vocal tracks, careful attention is paid to the production, making the vibe so intimate that I can hear every breath, every touch of tongue on teeth. The exaggerated drawl of Ellis' words adds to the rustic, playful feel - in the title track, "birdie" becomes "bird-aye," and it's perched up in a "birch traye."

In fact, I've never heard someone sound so childlike and so sensual at the same time. Ellis purrs in the opening track, "Summer Heatwave," adding rising steam to the languid, laid-back tempo:

All I'm wearing is my tank top
and my underwear
I'm stewing in summer juices
I'm basking in my spicy summer smell
It's a hot one ...

The music itself stretches out on a lawn chair, barely dressed. My computer screen almost fogged up.

The songwriting carries through to a strong finish. No throwaways, no fillers, no sign of running on creative empty. "Cool Wooden Floor" is one of the best songs about a hangover I've heard in a while. (Unable to stand, she writes an almost passionate love song to the supportive wooden panels.) "Autumn" and "Kariana" are sweetly sad, with one comparing losing a love to the falling of leaves, and the other trying to let go of a soul that has already moved on. Ellis can envelop you in the warmth of that voice and break your heart at the same time.

Even though Ellis has probably run out of the limited-edition pressing, I still strongly recommend checking it out. She could seal the disc in Saran Wrap and still make something magical out of it.

link to online article

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