As our own Geoffrey Himes so elegantly summarized last month, the Laurel Canyon sound—the muted, airy acoustic one popularized in the late ’60s and early ’70s by musicians who hung out in the hip Hollywood Hills ‘hood like Carole King, Neil Young, Graham Parsons and, most especially, Joni Mitchell, —is having a moment. A recent film explores the region’s legacy, but you needn’t watch a movie to trace its sonic trail: Weyes Blood’s latest LP Titanic Rising takes after King’s piano balladry, Jenny Lewis explores rustling country rock not unlike Parsons’ on the glamorous On The Line and Molly Tuttle chases Mitchell’s soft-spoken precision on her new stand-up guitar record, When You’re Ready.
That Southern California streak continues with yet another album worthy of a Mitchell comparison: the sophomore record from Bedouine, aka the Syrian-born, L.A.-based singer/songwriter Azniv Korkejian, who, if she wasn’t already before, is now one of folk’s most remarkable voices. Two years after she wooed critics with her seriously smooth self-titled debut, she’s back with one of the most purely pleasant albums you’ll hear in 2019. Bird Songs of a Killjoy is pristinely arranged, profusely plush and, at times, seductive in its ability to draw you in. More than anything, it’s a polite study in solitude.
Isolation can be both enjoyable and insufferable. Korkejian explores both kinds of confinement in these Bird Songs, first the frustrating loneliness of “two people never getting together” on swirling album opener “Under the Night,” then the startling freedom of separation on “One More Time,” where she basks “on an island with no one else around.” On “Bird,” she warns “that it’s you against the rain” and dotes on some sweet, flightless creature before leaving it alone to “sing.” Early in the record she mournfully quips, “You love how much I love you / when you’re gone.” All these verses point to a complicated, ever-changing relationship with space and separation.
Much like Mitchell’s “Chelsea Morning,” these songs also possess a magical and confusing quality that makes me want to either take to the sky or retreat to a sunny corner of the kitchen with a coffee and newspaper, never to budge unless prompted by some sort of emergency. It feels cozy throughout, but look to the title, and then to the tracklist, for an explanation of Bird Songs of a Killjoy’s aerial energy—a fleeting “Hummingbird” bolts from “flower to flower;” a restless woman flits “’round a cage” on “Bird Gone Wild,” a song that also points to Korkejian’s immigrant past (something she explored in more detail on her debut). The flight imagery is vivid and strong throughout. Soaring woodwinds—a little clarinet here, a garnish of flute there—and sweeping strings seal the deal.
While many of these songs are concerned with flying solo, Korkejian is still an expert on “Matters of the Heart,” a sly and jazzy tune that uplifts side B of this record. When she sings, “Call me like a phone / Just ring to me, baby” Korkejian sounds like the same woman who said, “I like watching people make out to my songs so I encourage consensual… anything, really,” at a Bedouine show earlier this year. She who values alone time can still yearn for company.
I treasure both, and I would like to curl up inside Bird Songs of a Killjoy and live there forever. This tender collection of stories and songs float and flit, at times reaching the grandiosity of a movie score, but they also suggest the kind of calm we crave in the midst of this hectic existence. Korkejian is a folk magician who knows how to harness the genre’s long history of acoustic storytelling and fold in something entirely her own. Her second studio effort does both, majestically and intelligently so.