Frequently, debut albums are interesting but simply do not fulfill their artistic potential. This is the case with Zee Avis self-titled 2009 debut. While interestingand flush with Avis lovely voicethe songs ventured at times into a cloying cuteness. The listener was tempted to wish for a more mature, jazzier version of Avi. Luckily, 2011 gives us Ghostbird, an 11-song meditation that only gets better upon replay.
One part island breeze and one part classic jazz, Ghostbird sounds like a record you would find in your grandmothers attic, the work of some jazz age ingénue. But, no, youre listening to Avi, a twentysomething native of Malaysia in possession of an old-soul voice. It would be easy to dismiss this music as easy listening, one more Jack Johnson-style veg-out disc, but the sheer beauty of her floaty alto voice and shimmering arrangements help it stand out and stand up to repeat listens.
Opener Swell Window captures attention from the start, with its chime-like lyrical repetition. 31 Days pops up a few tracks later, a meditation on growing up: At the ripe age of 17/I moved into that big, bad city, she croons. Later she learns Im half crazy/youre too sane. This has been done before, of course, but the earnestness in Avis delivery sells it.
Siboh Kitak Nangis best exemplifies Avis smoky jazz skills. All the while, its foreign lyrics hypnotize in the way that Sigur Róss Icelandic wanderings do. A few tracks are, yes, cute (particularly The Book of Morris Johnson), but Concrete Wall pays back your patience in spades, Avi giving one side of a lovers quarrel with a darkness that has eluded her before. Its smoldering passive aggression has a mature tone that suits her.
Jaw-dropping closer Stay in the Clouds features strong, clear strings and a throaty rasp of a jazz-throwback vocal. Singing softer in her higher register, Avi intones, Can I please stay in the clouds forever/cause I really like it here, an almost cruel irony when the song must, inevitably, end. Fortunately, you can hit repeat, and you will.
Essential Tracks: 31 Days, Concrete Wall, and Stay in the Clouds