Zee Avi
Ghostbird


4.0
excellent

Review

by Irving Tan STAFF
August 20th, 2011 | 71 replies | 11,014 views


Release Date: 2011 | Tracklist

Review Summary: Malaysia’s beloved starlet returns to haunt the night.

Zee Avi, the latest in a line of sultry folk rock heiresses, certainly knows something about the difficulties of balancing two interlocking worlds. A signed songstress to Brushfire Records and the symbol of a nation’s newfound consciousness in English indie music all at once, hers is a position worthy of both envy and embarrassing amounts of schadenfreude. The story of Zee Avi's (born Izyan Alirahman) rise to fame speaks volumes about the nature of talent sourcing in the 21st century: the half-dozen songs that she recorded and posted on YouTube at a friend’s behest ended up being discovered by the head of Monotone, who subsequently offered her a record deal. But before she even put pen to paper, the suddenness at which fame had been thrust upon her was there for all to see: those awkwardly posed video clips, a frozen moment of Southeast Asian night-time fashion shamelessly immortalized by a webcam from the bargain bin, suggested a young girl unsure of her place in the world and completely out of touch with the supple smoothness of her soon-to-be contemporaries. And yet, as hundreds upon hundreds of internet surfers flocked to the video repository like moths to a flame, the sheer force of the music sliding out from the speakers was so raw and sincere and appealing that it set Avi on a course to a future packed to the brim with music festivals and bright neon lights, almost despite herself.

There may be something to be said about how being raised in a country with an artificial western feel might have prepared Avi for a life as a global citizen, but that sentiment only ends up trivializing how vital her personal mission as Malaysia’s musical ambassador to the English-speaking world really is. The initial approach to the affair was threefold: with Avi coming from a nation long starved of international musical recognition, her extraordinary self-titled debut album first became an attempt at introducing her as the pioneer of a hidden generation of talent. Then, the stripped-down harmonies on Zee Avi were heralded as timepieces from her own paper background, which included runabouts on both the rustic streets of Malaysian Borneo and around the high-rises of the nation’s capital. Elsewhere, her unfamiliar, developing world appearance became both a blessing and a curse; initially viewed as a potential barrier to universal accessibility, by the time her debut release came around it was gently being massaged and exploited – in a vague, almost Putumayo sort of way – to act as a seal of authenticity and to assure prospective buyers that this was genuine exotic burlesque entertainment. Remarkably, it all worked like a charm; Avi’s debut was a splendid success. But that was the easy part. Having proven that she could translate the simplicity of her homemade videos to the recording studio with virtually no loss of intimacy, the onus fell on Avi to record a sophomore record that was both dynamic and reminiscent of her first album; to prove that there was depth and candor behind all that smiling sunshine.

And as if on cue, the introductory shimmer of “Swell Window” serves to do just that. The track opens with swelling acoustic strums and a series of stately drum beats, before Avi begins: “Like a swell window, I will wait for you/I'll ride the moment 'till I catch you again/'Till I catch you again,” she explains, her lyrics pared down to the most minimal of philosophic wanderings. Second track “Anchor” abandons its predecessor’s cascading approach in favour of an intensely personal, metaphor-filled, style of pop music that borrows heavily from Liz Janes’ lush cosmic analog sound (it even shares a title with one of her songs). “Milestone Moon” is a warm, ornate, and very human thing that could so easily have been a cut from Lisa Hannigan’s Sea Sew. Here, the music ebbs and flows as it bubbles and pops along, eventually capturing the listener in its tinkling warmth as Avi’s voice melts all over the maracas shaking softly in the background.

But for all of its attempts to sound more sophisticated, Ghostbird does orbit around moments of strong familiarity: one hears echoes of “Poppy” in the finger snaps of “Madness”, a cut that picks up exactly where Zee Avi left off and sees the singer return to a more stripped-down afternoon sound. The same effect is also audible on “Stay in the Clouds”, where a series of unplugged strums finds itself buried deep beneath Avi’s lofty vocal harmonies. Elsewhere, “The Book of Morris Johnson” relies heavily on the listener’s familiarity with the Floridian folk artist to make a connection, and marks the first time that Avi has written new music to accompany words that are not her own. Yet the most enticing thing about Zee Avi is her unpredictability – for she can never seem to suppress the urge to include a complimentary token from her Malaysian heritage. On her debut it was the cheekily-arranged “Kantoi” (“Caught”), which featured Avi effortlessly code-switching from urban Malay vernacular to pristine Queen’s English as she detailed her anger at being cheated on by a two-timing boyfriend. However on “Siboh Kitak Nangis”, Ghostbird’s response to “Kantoi”, Avi goes a step further and totally indulges herself by singing in her native Sarawakian dialect, a particularly fiery brand of creole Malay. The end result is a thoroughly incomprehensible two-and-a-half minute ballad which somehow manages to stay engaging despite the songstress’ no-holds-barred approach.

In hindsight, perhaps all of this was to be expected: Avi’s musical maturity, her newfound desire to go out on a limb, and the unabashed amount of love she has to share with the world (“I want people to feel like they’re being hugged,” she says of Ghostbird), as she has proven time and time again that she’s made out of pure spunk and is not afraid to show it. But for an artist who is only a tender twenty-five, and whose idea of a fun scavenger hunt is to tuck as many owl calls as she can into the eleven tracks of her sophomore disc, in many regards Ghostbird’s greatest strength is the sheer amount of promise that it holds for the future; Izyan Alirahman will yet grow, and her journey has only just begun. It looks like all those music festivals and bright neon lights will be forced to call out her name for a little while longer.



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user ratings (15)
Chart.
3.8
excellent

Comments:Add a Comment 
Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 20th 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

From one Malaysian, to another.

Stream: http://music.aol.com/new-releases-full-cds/spinner#/5

Digging: Ty Segall - Manipulator

Tyrael
August 20th 2011



20824 Comments


Nice, informative review. Pos.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 21st 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Thanks Ty, as always =)

BlackenedOne
August 21st 2011



14 Comments


You seem like you're one of the site's best reviewers, how come you don't have a title yet?

Also, you said you were gonna review some metal m/

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 21st 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Haha, I'm far from being one of the site's best reviewers mate! I'm okay, I guess, but I've still a
long way to go yet in terms of improving my writing =) I actually applied for Contributor about half a
year ago - I didn't get it (obviously) as the quality of some of the applications were just
phenomenal. Out of the twenty or so submissions from back then I'd rank myself as 12th at the very
best. But I'll keep working at it and maybe one day I'll get lucky =)

And LOL. I guess I did say that eh? I'm sure I will eventually - I still need to find a
suitable album to review and make sure I'm able to do it justice. For what it's worth I have
been looking up metal reviews on other sites to see how it's done. Maybe I'll be able to work up the
courage to attempt one before long!

StreetlightRock
Emeritus
August 21st 2011



3766 Comments


Fuck yea Malaysia. Still, this girl has always been a bit too cutesylalawonderland for me.

Digging: Interpol - El Pintor

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
August 21st 2011



23806 Comments


sounds like i probably wouldn't like this but good review

also, Irving, you're from Malaysia?

...eww

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 21st 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Fuck yea Malaysia. Still, this girl has always been a bit too cutesylalawonderland for me.

Fuck yea indeed ;) And yeah I understand how you might feel about her dreamy style - I need time to come to grips with it too on her debut. But she's really mellowed up on this one...my guess is that you might not mind it as much =)

sounds like i probably wouldn't like this but good review

Thanks bro! And yeah to be honest...knowing you...you probably wouldn't =S

also, Irving, you're from Malaysia? ...eww

Try telling that to Kiran!! (kirgasm)

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
August 21st 2011



23806 Comments


"And yeah to be honest...knowing you...you probably wouldn't =S"

hey now just cause I'm digging Design the Skyline is no reason to make assumptions about my taste. Haterz gon hate, DTS r00l.


Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 21st 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

EH I didn't know you liked DTS. Part of me feels like I should give Nevaeh a go...I mean, how bad can it be? (right?)

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 22nd 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Shameless bump.

Aids
Contributing Reviewer
August 22nd 2011



23806 Comments


shame on you

and no Design the Skyline is the worst band of all time I was trying to make a funny but alas, I have failed. story of my life.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 22nd 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

AiDTS.

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 22nd 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

Double post.

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
August 22nd 2011



15889 Comments


pos'd, will read in a few mins

Digging: Maybeshewill - Fair Youth

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 22nd 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

pos'd, will read in a few mins

I think you got that the wrong way round.

SowingSeason
Staff Reviewer
August 22nd 2011



15889 Comments


phenomenal review as always irving. well deserved on the feature.

im lazy and dont want to listen to samples right now, but would i like this?

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 22nd 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

You might. "Swell Window" and "Milestone Moon" are particularly sweet, dreamy stuff. Just popping open the opening track on the stream should give you an idea of whether you'll dig this or not. That being said, you didn't like Liz Janes' Say Goodbye, and this is very similar (I don't know if you just don't like the musical style or thought that Janes' tunes were mediocre, though).

Thanks for the congrats =) I had to ask for it though, which is quite unabashed of me. But I guess the end justifies the means - we (Malaysia) really don't get enough international exposure, especially in the case of our English acts.

Acanthus
August 23rd 2011



9537 Comments


I loved the information packed in this, the scavenger hunt for owl calls sounds like a very entertaining pastime!

Irving
Staff Reviewer
August 23rd 2011



7171 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

the scavenger hunt for owl calls sounds like a very entertaining pastime!

May you have better luck than I did. I didn't find a single one.

Also, for the benefit of those who don't speak Malay (Zee Avi's mother tongue), Ghostbird literally translates to "burung hantu", which means owl in Malay. Consider yourself enlightened! ;)



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