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Eliza Niemi
Staying Mellow Blows Amanda Farah , August 9th, 2022 07:38

For Toronto multi-hyphenate Eliza Niemi, this debut album marks a giant sonic leap from the early singles – with songs and sass to match

If the entreaties of popular wisdom to a calmer mindset haven’t sat well with you, Eliza Niemi is on your wavelength. The songwriter-producer-multi-instrumentalist’s latest album, Staying Mellow Blows, taps into an anti-folk energy in her exploration of difficult relationships and uncomfortable feelings.

Niemi’s varied and confident vocals span a loping folk style to an almost deadpan delivery with equal appeal. She comes across as cool and in control but never unemotional, which allows her to approach topics such as the fear of losing people, death more broadly, and shitty romantic partners in an incisive way that is relatable and never too heavy-handed. The flighty vocal on ‘Trust Me’ allows lyrics about the ultimate end of all relationships to breeze past with an almost alarming ease.

Niemi uses that self-possession as a storytelling device to best effect on ‘Not Killing Bad Energy’ which relays a story of infatuation with a musician perceived as more talented and the manipulative relationship that follows over a track of finger-picked guitars. The line “You talk about music like a high school teacher ruins a beautiful book” is a stinging rebuke to those who try to assume the role of educator in a relationship (as well as likely giving music nerds and critics pause).

Niemi has previously released a mini-album and singles that follow a more bare-bones approach of vocals and acoustic guitar. Staying Mellow Blows is a major step forward in her songwriting and arrangements as well as her vocal style. Some of this can be attributed to the large cast of supporting musicians and collaborators – all of whom were sent songs remotely to contribute to – adding further dimension to the songs, guitar leads and vocal harmonies that she might not have dreamt of herself, clarinet accents, drums and percussion both acoustic and digital that match the bounce of her voice so well.

But there are songs that don’t seem to stem from her singer-songwriter nervous system. While cello features regularly across the album, songs such as ‘Death I’ and ‘Death II’ (a suite that follows the trajectory from the first loss of a pet to the more shocking loss of a person) lean solely on the cello, taking on a different dimension and texture. Meanwhile, ‘Walking Feels Slow’ is the humming, looped centre of the album, built on slow burning synths, chopped, distorted vocals and an oddball orchestral outro. Niemi’s vocals and lyrical style anchor these songs to the rest of the album. They feel like a sly wink, an acknowledgement that her even-handedness does not equate an easy-going attitude.