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Eiyn Sof - Bloodstreams

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Artist: Eiyn Sof

Album: Bloodstreams

Label: Blue Fog

Review date: Mar. 16, 2011

The term “Ein Sof” comes out of Jewish mystic theology. It’s a phrase for the unphraseable, a pair of words that stands in for the infinite-ness of god. It’s something that, almost by definition, no one can get a handle on. The harder you try to force it into words or thought, the more it slips away. Eiyn Sof with a “y” is a musical project that is likewise hard to pin down. It employs the simplest sort of instruments, the most fragile kinds of melodies to reach for the ineffable.

Eiyn Sof is the performing name for Melissa Boraski, a Toronto singer who started in gospel, took a detour through rock bands like the Real Priscillas, broke off her musical career to have a couple of kids (see “Young Son” for a hint of the distractions of early motherhood) and finally began inching back in her limited spare time, making songs on guitar, piano, voice and an old synthesizer belonging to her husband. Her debut album collects 20 sparsely arranged tracks, some full-blown songs, others quiet interludes. She taps mainly traditional styles, working in full-on country (“Too Tall”), acoustic blues (“Railway Trax”) and jazz-tinged Linda Perhacs-ish folk (“Take By Storm”) and yet never entirely inhabits them. That is, there’s a surreal wind blowing through this lovely album, a weird intensity that lurks in even its prettiest corners.

Consider, for example, “Deer in a Tiger’s Disguise,” a folk song couched in a soft, tipsy croon that hints at madness, or at least an altered sense of reality. It’s also full of some of the disc’s most arresting natural (and supernatural) imagery (“we’ll ride together on ravens through the air”). Similarly, the title track starts in blues-y traditionalism and slides ever so slightly off the rails, as Boraski conjures “jewels [that] fade like names / on the tips of tongues of flames” and later provides an inexplicable (but indelible) glimpse of young girls with poppies bursting from their mouths. Even “Too Tall,” with its pedal steel and country melody among the most conventional sounding of these songs, starts with an arresting, off-kilter line: “I’m too tall to fit into all your low expectations of love.”

If Boraski’s lyrics are fleeting and surreal, so, too, are the brief abstract pieces that punctuate this album, establishing eerie, space-filled atmospheres and then fading out. “Simulacres” layers clicking and squeaking sounds with the ethereal brush of human sighs. “Tongue Scales” whispers otherworldly poetry over the wheeze of ancient accordions. “Cuddle Slugs” swells and wafts with wordless vocals over well-spaced guitar notes. These cuts are so short that you almost only experience them in retrospect. Still, you do think about them, later, after they’re over, and wonder why they’ve gotten stuck in your head.

As you might expect of a woman who takes her nom de plume from the Kabbalah, Boraski has an interesting relationship with religion. She starts her album with a fairly faithful rendition of a Christian hymn, perhaps a nod to her beginnings as a gospel singer. There’s nothing in “In the Garden” that would offend a believer. However, later on, she’s as casually subversive with Christian imagery as she is with conventional folk and country styles. An aside in shadowy “Railway Trax” observes that the “son of man and his holy ghost took off with a younger host,” a twist on Biblical language that is at once earthy and surreal. It is, in that sense, a good match for her music, which infuses old-time blues guitar playing with spectral choral glories and intersperses straightforward folk with gorgeous electronic oddities. She is, it seems, comfortable enough with tradition to bend it sideways and make it strange again.

By Jennifer Kelly

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