Blink and you might miss one of the twelve short, sparsely instrumented songs on Elyse Miller’s new disc, as most last two minutes or less. But Miller packs a lot of punch into these brief, slow-paced numbers, usually accompanied only by acoustic guitar. It’s a fair bet that several songs will get stuck in your head after just one listen.
Miller’s sweet, drawn-out vocal on the lullaby-like “New Love,” captures the obsessive need to spend every moment with a new crush and the intense physical lust that accompanies it: “can’t keep the bedclothes up/can’t keep your clothes on.” The simple, lilting “I Want to Love You” is so pure musically that you may miss its mischievous tone at first: “I want to love you on a hilltop meadow/it may be breaking the law/but baby it’s dark/no one has to know.” The potentially creepy lyrics are rendered playful through Miller’s plaintive delivery.
Guitar and vocal are more strident on “What We Teach,” in which Miller bemoans children’s desensitization to violence. The disturbing “Kinderwhore,” which sounds like a schoolyard chant sung by a pedophile, is essentially a long, leering description of a young girl, from her pig tails and nail polish to her bubble gum. The sense of menace implied is unsettling. The lyrics are all the more jarring for Miller’s singsong delivery. Miller shows the most emotion on “Paperdoll,” detailing the lengths women go to in order to fit into the dominant cult of beauty. She decries the constant societal pressure and “the driving mania/to be as thin and as smooth/and as shallow as paper.” It’s a valid but depressing song, as it ends with the narrator being torn in two.
Miller has a way with both words and music, and her interest in social issues and playful sense of humor shine through on Paperdoll.