After a quick, albeit passive, introduction to the first few tracks of Ghostbird, it’s hard not to lump the record’s polished collection of purposefully laid-back observations into the worn-out “let’s throw a bonfire and forget about our troubles” class of summer-exploiting ditties. And while the comfortable and simplistic style of Zee Avi’s latest LP will likely be compared by some to Jack Johnson’s overly saccharine past releases, after a few listens, the Malaysian singer-songwriter’s sophomore effort reveals an experience that, besides its scattered moments of monotony, is far too pleasant to waste the effort necessary to point out its flaws.
It’s been two years since Avi’s first self-titled effort, and the 25-year-old has obviously taken some time to tweak the boundaries of her comfort zone. After large-scale performances at festivals including Bonnaroo and Outside Lands, Ghostbird takes the time to showcase her syrupy vocals, as well as her efforts to incorporate a few more subtle layers of accompaniment that provide some much-needed relief from the record’s acoustic guitars and bongos.
Fueled by a summer spent listening to Merrill Garbus’ softer moments as tUnE-yArDs, my initial reaction to Avi’s vocals drew some serious comparisons to Garbus’s tamer style that lies wedged in between her powerful yelps—a huge plus for Avi. As the record progressed, and its energy went up a few notches, I found myself wondering why the artist didn’t pick up the pace from the get-go. The LP’s standout, “Concrete Wall,” surfaces in its ninth track and leads off with a wash of a cappella accompaniment before throwing in a few soft layers of electronic pulsing that are, surprisingly, the perfect complement to Avi’s song structure. Similarly, “The Book Of Morris Johnson” has an almost ‘80s feel, bouncing around a catchy syth beat. But unfortunately, for every breakthrough in Ghostbird’s collection, there’s an equally predictable and safe counterpart. “Thank You Sun” regurgitates the line “Just roll your head in the sun,” one too many times and serves as an example of these unfortunate, but bearable setbacks.
Although Avi’s taken a few risks with Ghostbird, the artist has still delivered a record full of material that could easily be used as the backdrop for a “stay positive” surf film—a comfortable range for the singer’s talents. But, unlike many of her peers, Avi isn’t afraid to take a few genre-challenging risks, which will hopefully continue to surface throughout her young career.