Smart, vaudevillian pop
The marquee-style album title is telling here: Kuala Lumpur-based strummer Zee Avi is being offered up by Jack Johnson’s Brushfire imprint as exotic vaudeville entertainment from the other side of the world, and justifiably so. Her arrangements are music-hall clever, her erudite lyrics reference the most arcane subjects, and her flapper-vampy voice camps up everything to the point of burlesque. While a backbeat patters out some scratchy blues, the brainy Avi watches a lover succumb to opium addiction, blithely trilling, “He used to love German Expressionism films / But now he drinks until he falls … the poppy took my baby away from me.” In the gentle uke-plucked “Just You And Me,” she outlines the beginning of a breakup with a lilting, “You were sitting at the coffee table where you were reading Kierkegaard / Minutes later you proceeded to say something that almost broke my heart.” These words would sound pretentious in most songwriting canons, but Avi sounds natural and unaffected—she’s a well-educated kid who’s not afraid to show it. Her name deserves to be on that marquee, in headlining lights.