Jelena Ćirić – Shelters One (EP)
Sometimes you read a press release about an artist and the various analogies they come up with and can’t reconcile them. In this case it’s quite different. There are indeed elements of both Joni Mitchell and Regina Spektor in Jelena Ćirić.
As the name suggests she’s of a Slavic background, having been born in Serbia and raised in Canada, then studying music in Spain followed by a couple years in Mexico, before she settled in Iceland, which is renowned as a musical genre-free state, and which suited her perfectly. Ergo, another adopted Nordic. (And she’s a journalist for Iceland Review so I’d better be careful what I say!)
Ćirić released her debut single ‘Lines’ on November 6th, the first track from this EP, so not only do we have an adopted subject today, we have a brand new one. And what a catch.
Home and identity typically figure largely in the work of the peripatetic such as Ćirić and in this one she seeks a shelter in each of the four songs as a catalyst for the processing of appropriate emotions.
Common to three of the four songs are strings (an almost weeping viola), soft piano, an accordion, occasional drum brushes (you rarely hear those, these days) and her own expressive vocal which swoops and soars and which on the first two tracks is delivered in an oh-so Joni Mitchell manner.
In ‘Lines’ she goes to a fortune teller because ‘she had half an hour to kill’, seeking the answers to big questions. She sings,
“Isn’t it something that we think we change by doing something stupid, by stepping out of range” (later) “…by seeing someone different, by seeing someone else.”
That clever word play around change puts me in mind of Jenny Lewis on the brilliant ‘Rise Up, with Fists!!’:
“You can't change things, we're all stuck in our ways /It's like trying to clean the ocean/What, do you think you can drain it? /Well, it was poisoned and dry long before you came.”
‘In Time’ is a seductive mantra that love can triumph over distance. But it is a smoochy song too, well suited to a first dinner date and that last glass of wine before you retire to the couch and get down to the serious business.
‘Concrete’ is where she adopts the Spektor persona and doesn’t she just in a short, fast-paced and witty little ditty that could be a promotional message from the Concrete Marketing Board but which of course is parody and her response to the ‘get a real job’ advice that artists are subjected to. It’s packed full of Spektor-like halting piano and the only thing missing is Spektor’s trademark glottal stops. “Concrete let’s you build so high / concrete can block out the sky / it is undeniable/concrete is reliable” she gushes in a voice which could belong to the Muscovite before ending with the brilliant “In a battle where you must face / triumph or defeat / you’d be silly not to bet / your money on…”
It’s only on the final track, Loughbreeze’, that she establishes an identity of her own. A mysterious song, the meaning of which I couldn’t nail. Apparently, and inspired by the shores of Canada’s Lake Ontario, it is “about letting go of the expectations of others in order to reconnect with the essential things”. But to my mind it could pertain to a bolthole she’s sought out to escape from someone while it could equally be the sort of place artists seek to get away from it all and write songs like this. And guess what? There’s a glottal stop in it! “…melt like bud-er.”
Jelena Ćirić offers us here for her debut, four sophisticated, thoughtful and well-crafted and arranged songs which promise the emergence of a new force in the folk-pop sphere.
Joni Mitchell, plagued by health issues in recent years, is making a comeback just now. She doesn’t need to.
‘Shelters One’ is out on November 27th via Icelandic label Paradís Sessions.
Nordic Music Review 8/10