Zee Avi sings with drowsy soul on debut

She was born on the island of Borneo, but Malaysian singer and songwriter Zee Avi has a soul full of Americana on her self-titled debut (Brushfire/Monotone).

Avi, 23, triangulates vintage pop, jazz and country for a sound that doesn’t quite fit into any of those categories. She plays acoustic guitar and ukulele and sings in a drowsy voice that’s intimate and sometimes playful, like a lover’s lips brushing your ear. Avi sings in a way that is at times reminiscent of Regina Spektor in the offhand way she moves her mouth around syllables and wordless vocals, as if she’s simply experimenting with the range of her voice.

Her songs mostly concern relationship dynamics: there’s a restless lover on “Just You and Me,” letting go of a lingering love on “Darlin’ It Ain’t Easy” and losing a lover to the haze of heroin on “Poppy.” Yet even the sad songs have a jaunty spark, and she mixes in deft lyrical references to German expressionist film and Kierkegaard.

She makes excellent use of a skilled band, adding muted trumpet to the indigo vibe on “I Am Me Once More” and quiet Wurlitzer to the smokey ballad “Is This the End,” though one of her strongest turns on the album features Avi singing over an acoustic guitar on a spare, almost torchy cover of Morrissey’s “First of the Gang to Die.” It’s the charming centerpiece on a lovely, understated debut.

(Photo by Autumn DeWilde)

May 20, 2009 at 12:11 pm | Share

  1 comment for “Zee Avi sings with drowsy soul on debut

  1. March 10, 2010 at 9:55 pm

    Just checking in and giving my compliments to another music blogger who posts on great artists like this one.

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