Ellis - Born Again Music Album Reviews

The Canadian songwriter’s full-length debut is sentimental and melancholy, allowing even songs with ambiguous, conflicted meanings to be subsumed into echoey haze.

Hamilton, Ontario’s Linnea Siggelkow decided to learn guitar at age 12, when she saw the music video for Avril Lavigne’s “Complicated.” As the daughter of a piano teacher, it was her first departure from sheet music. When she began writing her own songs, she found herself drawn towards melancholy. That’s the mood that defines Ellis, the dream-pop project she started in her bedroom some four years ago. A series of early GarageBand demos attracted attention, earning her opening slots for Soccer Mommy and Palehound. Her debut LP, Born Again, is an opportunity to hear Ellis in her own right. But with sentimental lyrics and familiar emo-pop tropes—gentle guitar reverb, windswept synths, overblown crescendos—the album too often falls back on cliché.

As the title suggests, Born Again charts Ellis’ disillusionment with her religious upbringing and its lingering effects on her state of mind. “In the pews I lost my hope/Where I was supposed to find it,” she sings in a soft, pining voice reminiscent of contemporaries like Nicole Dollanganger, Long Beard, and Tomberlin. She confesses to a shame “that I will carry ’til I’m dead,” but the feeling doesn’t grade into the music. There’s little specificity, nor much variation in mood, so that even songs with ambiguous, conflicted meanings are subsumed into echoey haze. The closing track takes a hopeful tone—“Had a dream I was a butterfly,” Ellis sings—but it relies on the same sparse guitar, synth overlay, and middle-eight upsurge as “Into the Trees,” a song about dysfunctional relationships and dread.

When Ellis’ unique perspective does emerge, it offers beauty like “a brief gasp between one cliché and another,” in the words of Ezra Pound. “I thought I had found freedom/When I moved into the city/I was puking out the window/I was trying to be pretty,” she sings on the title track—an image so detailed and so arbitrary, it could only be her own. By contrast, lines like, “You’re the monster that still hides under my bed/You’re the words that I thought but never said” (from “Shame”) are so wholly reliant on cliché that there’s little hope of saying anything new. At other times, Ellis struggles to put words to her emotions. “I can’t explain the feeling,” she admits on “Happy”; “I don’t know why, I just feel like a mess,” she sings on “Into the Trees.” With nowhere else to go for emphasis or meaning, she simply gets louder, adding all-caps declarations of “I’m scared” that counteract the very feeling she wants to convey.

Open-heartedness can act as a salve in an irony-hardened world, but the sweet kitsch of Born Again leaves little to latch onto. The songs are buttressed by predictable structures—soft, then bombastic, then soft again—with little room for surprise. The grungy, tuned-down guitar starts just when it’s expected; ditto the pitter-pattering drums and the starry synths that merge the other components together. All the soupy atmospherics wind up obscuring Ellis’ attempts at honest self-reflection. Uniformly and unashamedly sentimental, Born Again leaves too little to remember her by.

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About Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera

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Ellis - Born Again Music Album Reviews Ellis - Born Again Music Album Reviews Reviewed by Wanni Arachchige Udara Madusanka Perera on Thursday, April 23, 2020 Rating:

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