Reviews

Dream Pop's Ellis Wants to be 'Born Again'

Photo: Ebru Yildiz / Courtesy of Grandstand Media

Ellis' unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair on Born Again. It's better to be dejected than psychotic.

Born Again
Ellis

Fat Possum

3 April 2020

Canadian singer-songwriter Linnea Siggelkow records under the moniker Ellis, derived from the pronunciation of the first two letters of her names (LS=Ellis). While her birth name is strange, dissonant, and distinctive, her chosen appellation is pleasant-sounding and common. There are many Ellises in the music industry such as Robert Ellis, Pee Wee Ellis, Shirley Ellis, not to mention another one simply named Ellis, who is a singer-songwriter from Minneapolis. The Ontario-based Ellis smoothing her handle into something softer is analogous to her musical style. She sings mostly in a slow, quiet voice with delicate accompaniment (she plays graceful and tasteful guitar and piano). If one had to choose a color to describe Ellis's music, one would call it gray.

Ellis looks at herself and the world around her and feels depressed. Her lyrics declare "I wanna die sometimes and it makes me feel like shit", "I'm scared and I don't know / Feels like buying flowers just to watch them die", and "I'm trying my best to remember a time I wasn't sad" on different songs. Ellis explicitly notes on another track that she has loved to play the victim and feel sorry for herself. Her unhappiness serves as armor to protect her from despair. It's better to be dejected than psychotic. Ellis understands the positive aspects of melancholy.

That provides the background for the standout track, "Fall Apart". Ellis confesses that she thought she had it all under control. This time, though, she has unraveled and it's not pretty. While the other cuts on Ellis's debut full-length disc suggest Ellis knows how to keep her feelings hidden, "Fall Apart" suggests that the only thing worse than having a breakdown is having someone watching you have a breakdown. She dreads being exposed for being herself.

That's possibly why she changed her name. It protects her. That's not Linnea SIggelkow one listens to, it's that LS lady. As someone with the initials SH, as a teen, I longed to find a girlfriend with the monogram IT. Together, we'd be the SHIT. That never happened. Instead, I married an ML. I guess that makes me an SHML or schlemiel, which is somehow more appropriate. Whatever. I wish LS would be more Linnea SIggelkow than her mellower persona. The ten tracks on Born Again might comfort those who feel the same but would not inspire one to take action.

"This feeling of dread sits on my chest / And it burns through my ribcage," she sings on the dour "Into the Trees". Ellis multi-tracks her voice to show how alone she feels. She waits for someone to help her instead of helping herself—a pattern that repeatedly emerges across the ten songs. Even on the optimistically entitled title track, she complains about drowning in self-pity. Only another human being can offer her a new beginning.

Another person named Ellis, the progressive English physician Havelock Ellis, famously noted that the "art of living lies in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on". This Ellis needs to let Linnea SIggelkow be born again and let things get rough. This is music for the tranquilized unhappy people among us.

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