Here are some clips from our recent hike to South Willow Lake in Utah’s Stansbury Mountains. The angelic voice issuing from my phone in one clip belongs to Miss Zee Avi. If you must listen to music in the wilderness, it must be hers.
Category Archives: Zee Avi
Why do I like Zee Avi so much? Could it be her novelty? If you’ve listened to her, you know what I mean by that. Avi’s voice is completely unique. And not in a calculated or blatant way. Her sound is a striking mix of Billie Holiday and Norah Jones. The former was known for tailoring her vocals to sound like a horn. Indeed, play some Billie Holiday and walk away from the speaker until the words sound muddled. What you still hear will sound very similar to a trumpet or a sax playing.
Purposefully or not, Avi’s voice shares this characteristic, which may be why the horn accompaniment on her recently released debut album sounds so appropriate. In fact, one of this album’s pillars is the instrumentation used in these songs, my only previous exposure to which were Avi’s minimalist YouTube videos.
The more I listen to Jack Johnson’s Brushfire artists, the more I conclude that ingenious instrumentation is what sets them apart. Somebody (or somebody’s) over in Mango Tree has an impeccable knack for mixing instruments and sounds. I’ve noticed it ever since the Jack’s In Between Dreams. For the record, whoever tweets for Brushfire told me kudos on Avi’s album go to members of Jack’s and Matt Costa’s bands and Ozomatli. Somebody’s calling the shots, though, and I’d like to shake their hand.
Of course the real star on this album is Miss Zee Avi, her songs, and the emotion she conveys in her voice. Avi is one of those artists that make you feel like you know them simply by singing a song. Each of the albums 12 tracks is a musical delight.
I won’t go track by track, but favorites include “Just You and Me,” “Monte,” and “Honey Bee.” If you’re a selective music purchaser like I am, I’d buy these tracks online for a nice introduction. Then, in this case, of course I’d buy the rest.
Noteworthy highlights include the simple guitar melody on “The Story,” a song that is best listened to at night in the mountains, and the horn/vocal duet on “Just You and Me” which illustrates my point about the voice-horn comparison. The rolling “Darling” would sound equally at home on a road trip or in a club.
You might assume, based on my previous doting, that I’d have no complaints about the album. You would be wrong. “Poppy,” Avi’s first original song, and “First of the Gang” are lackluster at best. And “Kantoi” is downright annoying. Mind you, these tracks are fine vocally and musically. They’re just somehow less than the sum of their parts.
I also might have arranged the album differently. Ordering the slow, emotive “Is This the End” right after the bubbly “Just You and Me” takes the air out of things mid-album. “Is This the End” would be better appreciated were it the album closer. A track featuring Jack Johnson in some way would have topped things off very nicely. Here’s hoping that happens on her next album.
These criticisms considered, Miss Avi has me hooked. This album is mature beyond its scope and rich beyond its simplicity. I just ask that after she becomes a mega star, that Avi not forget the little old bloggers like me who had her back from the beginning. Here’s to the beginning of a beautiful career!
A Note on the new Zee Avi album
I know I promised a review, but these last few weeks couldn’t have been more hectic for me. I still plan on writing one, but it defininitely won’t be until next week. Suffice it to say that the new album is excellent. Whoever called the shots on instrumentation is a genius. Avi’s voice is sweet and distinct. Favorite track so far– ‘Just You and Me.’
Iosepa or bust
My family and I attended the annual Iosepa festival last Saturday. If you’re new to this blog, read more about this Hawaiian ghost town here. Below are some pics from this year’s festival:
One of this town’s distinguishing characteristics was its pressurized irrigation system, which exploited 5 mountain streams by converging them into cement and wooden aqueducts. Last year, archaeologist Benjamin Pykles was excavating one of the old lots, he showed me some BLM archaeological papers that mapped out remnants of that aqueduct system. This year, I attempted to locate one of the ruins but turned back when I decided my family vehicle’s axles and tires were more important than a moment of archaeological elation. Read all about it in this week’s Transcript Bulletin column, which I’ll post here this weekend.
Yeah, so I haven’t blogged much the last few days, nor have I had much time to read all of your blogs and leave comments. That’s because the missus and I are frantically preparing to sell our house.
No, I didn’t lose any of my jobs. It’s just that we looked at the number of children we have vs. the number of bedrooms and square feet in our little starter home and decided it might be wise to take advantage of the buyer’s market.
It was split-second decision, and as heart attack inducing as that is for me, most of our better decisions have happened that way (getting married to each other, having kids, and buying our current house all come to mind).
The down side is that gave us a week to re-landscape our yard, redo our bathroom floor, and try to make the place look like 5 kids really don’t live there. All amidst family reunions, weddings, school activities, and work.
Of course if we don’t sell our house, we won’t buy the one we’ve made an offer on, which fortunately is just up the street. Wish us luck.
I’ve been excited for singer/songwriter Zee Avi for quite a while now, and her debut album hit U.S. stores yesterday. I’ve listened to it a few times now and its exactly what I expected. Good stuff. Let me just say that this Malaysian artist is set to take America by storm. I’ll post a review hopefully this weekend or early next week.
For now, please enjoy her new vid for ‘Bitter Heart.’
In “Bitter Heart”, the Brushfire Records newcomer canonizes the signature modus operandi prevalent in her lauded YouTube offerings: An airy, laid-back take on love’s weightier topics.
The track expresses the pent up feelings of a neglected love, but it does so with the happy-go-lucky introspective style popularized by label-mate Jack Johnson. In fact, “Bitter Heart” is reminiscent of several tracks on Jack’s In Between Dreams. A brief horn bridge (provided, I’m assuming, by Ozomatli) adds a satisfying touch.
Avi’s unique sound may not take popular radio by storm, but when you hear it playing in a surf shop or on Pandora, you won’t be able to help but take notice. The fusion of her Billie Holiday-like voice with eclectic accompaniment draws your attention and keeps it until the last happy chord.
Zee Avi’s self-titled debut album is due out May 19.
Brushfire Records plans to release Zee Avi’s debut album on May 19.
The album features “touches” by Brushfire colleagues Zach Gill, Adam Topol, Merlo Podlewski. No word if Jack Johnson joins her in any way on any of the tracks (though I’m hoping he does).
The Malaysian-bred singer/songwriter’ became YouTube sensation last year, when her humble videos were noticed by the guys at Brushfire. Her first appearance for the label came as a breezy track on their multi-artist Christmas release (my review of that album here).
Other than the delightful Christmas song and the DIY YouTube vids, I haven’t heard a lot from Miss Avi. But judging on the stuff I have heard, I think she’s got huge potential. Kudos to Brushfire for snatching her up.
Since YouTube brought Avi her big break, it’s only appropriate that her album’s release date was announced in a YouTube video last week. That video is embedded below (you’ll need to turn up the volume).
May 19 can’t come soon enough!
Previous Zee Avi blogging:
-Excited for Zee Avi (aka Kokokaina)
-Zee Avi’s track aside, Brushfire’s Warm December serves up lukewarm holiday tunes
Despite my less than glowing review of his latest album, regular readers of this website understand the significance of Jack Johnson’s music to me. So please don’t think I’m unduly knocking the guy when I call Brushfire Records’ newly released This Warm December: A Brushfire Holiday Vol. 1 simply lukewarm.
I’m wary of contemporary Christmas albums because musically they tend to be flat and unoriginal- as if the artist realizes his album will spend most of the year gathering dust on a shelf somewhere. Why waste your imaginative tunes and best riffs on something that will be listened to for a maximum of 1.5 months per year? Most contemporary Christmas albums aren’t so much about Christmas spirit and traditions as they are about Christmas dollar signs. They’re mostly superficial nods to an already watered-down holiday.
The relatively small palette of holiday standards has been rebooted so many times that contemporary artists taking their stab at it tend to overreach in order leave their stamp. The result is an uninspiring, often mangled rehash of songs that simply don’t need rehashing. Surprisingly, the reboots on Warm December aren’t half bad. Mason Jennings resists the temptation to overdo “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” instead offering a pleasantly bare-bones version of the classic.
Jack’s “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” has been a family favorite ever since I got my hands on a copy of it 5 or 6 years ago (it’s definitely got that good old-school Brushfire Fairytales sound) It’s nice to see “Rudolph” appear on this album, though I would have appreciated some more new material.
Zach Gill’s “Silent Night” is another example of the beauty of simplicity when it comes to Christmas standards. Just one beef– he’s replaced the phrase “Christ the Savior is born” in the song’s second verse with a repeat of “Sleep in heavenly peace” from the first. Not sure whether this was for stylistic reasons or politically correct ones. I’d like to think it’s the former.
When rebooting the classics alone isn’t satisfactory, artists often feel like they need to add original tracks or covers– the love song that has nothing to do with the holidays but makes passing mention of Christmas in its hook in order to match the season; The generic lament about being alone for the holidays; a lame wish for world peace. And no contemporary holiday album would be complete without the classic “only wanting you for Christmas” song?
You know exactly what I’m talking about, don’t you? It’s because they’re on every single album. And Warm December is no exception. Here is where this album fits the mold of its sub-par contemporaries. I’ll be honest; the lyrics to Jack’s “Someday At Christmas” almost made me dry heave (Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys/Playing with bombs like boys play with toys…) You know I love you, Jack, but I’m sick of the politics. I’m sure it’s a hit with the college crowd, but it just ain’t doing it for me. All the same, Jack’s use of the subtle self-provided harmony on the track is very well done.
Matt Costa’s “All I Want For Christmas” might be ok if it didn’t sound like he’s singing “All I wants a Christmas is you” over and over again. Money Mark’s track has kind of a catchy synthesized melody, but the trite lyrics are cringeworthy. Similarly, while G. Love’s “Christmas Baby” and ALO’s “Christmas Time” are fine musically, the tracks on the whole are nothing to write home about. Covers by Neil Halstead and Rogue Wave are airy, smooth, and true to form– but ultimately forgettable.
The obvious standout on Warm December is newcomer Zee Avi’s “No Christmas For Me.” Avi’s dusky vocals are fresh, cheery and genuine. She’s the only artist on the disc that sounds like she gave this song her all. If you buy this CD, buy it for her track (or you can download the track alone for free as a promo from Jack Johnson’s iLike page. You can listen to the entire album while you’re at it).
I’ve been impressed by Avi’s talent and humble personality since I discovered her on YouTube several months ago, and I wrote about her in September. If the amount of hits I get on that post every day is any kind of indicator, the young artist formerly known as Koko Kaina has the potential to make it big. I still haven’t heard when Brushfire plans on releasing her freshman album, so “No Christmas For Me” and her YouTube vids will have to tide us over until then.
Bottom Line: Warm December is overall a lukewarm album. If you follow the Brushfire artists closely, are a completist, or prefer shallow holiday-ish tunes to more authentic Christmas music, you’ll probably like it. A good chunk of the sales profits will go to musical education for kids, making it a worthy purchase. Otherwise, download Zee Avi’s track and hope for a warmer December if a second volume is released.
Two of my favorite music types are roots blues/jazz of the American South and surf folk (a la Jack Johnson). The two genres are normally worlds apart. But one budding singer/songwriter, a gal from Malaysia by the name of Zee Avi, artfully combines both styles.
Appropriately, she’s been picked up by Jack Johnson’s music label, Brushfire Records. Brushfire manager Emmett Malloy calls Avi a cross between Norah Jones and Billie Holliday, and she’ll make her first Brushfire appearance on the label’s upcoming Christmas CD. She has already recorded her debut album with Brushfire, but I haven’t seen a release date.
For now, the only way to enjoy Avi’s enchanting music is via YouTube, where she goes by stage name Kokokaina. One of my favorite vids is I Am Me, Once More (I’d embed it here, but she’s got embed disabled, dang her).
If her album turns out anything like her amateur YouTube recordings, it’s going to be awesome.