Album review of Braids by Johnny Black on Hi-Fi News Magazine August 2017
If you long to hear a beautiful, assured female voice singing wonderful self-composed songs, you should check out this stunning debut album. Details about Eiks are currently scant, but she is, I'm given to understand, a young woman who grew up in Jordan and Japan but currently lives in London. Her inspirations, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Nick Drake, are both easy to hear in the delicacy and careful structure of her music, where every second seems considered and every word chosen with care. When a hint of understated percussion emerges in the title track the effect is startling, but perfect. Nothing here will dent the singles chart but it could dent your heart. Johnny Black
"Folk singers are often well-traveled. Though one’s roots may be humble, the wanderlust of life draws them to new cities and more challenging sources of inspiration. For Eiks, inspiration comes not from visiting new places, but from living in them. To know a city like Eiks knows London, one must experience the day-to-day monotony of urban life. To write lyrics like “… falling petals settle on us like a gentle burial” one must know the English fields where these petals fall. Speaking with Eiks about her home and her passions, it becomes evident that she is completely immersed in her creative world—and she’d like us to join her there.
Eiks’s new album Braids is a snapshot of the places, both real and imagined, that she has called home. The title track, she says, is derived from memories of her childhood in Jordan: “…my parents used to entertain frequently, so I spent a lot of time drawing cartoons and making up stories whilst playing with my cat.” For her, “the image of braids is nostalgic, simple, and humble.” She channels recollections from her youth and describes to me the most poignant memories, the origins of her penchant for music. “I discovered composing whilst doing GCSE music and I absolutely fell in love with it. I relished getting lost making up tunes on the piano for hours and hours.” Eiks is able to meld these musical memories and childhood flashbacks into poems so vivid that listeners’ own distant thoughts are jolted to life. The result is a shared story and a work of communal memory, giving shape to the nebulous experiences of home, love, and spirituality.
Looking beyond a childhood that brimmed with playful creativity, Eiks also explores the more recent memories of her adulthood in London. One is drawn particularly to Eiks’s inclination to recall the scenes of nature encountered in her daily travels. “I enjoy using imageries from nature as they help me convey a certain atmosphere or express emotions without spelling things out too much like in the songs, ‘Willow Tree’ and ‘The Fall’…Whether it’s the tiniest parks in London or the countryside in the UK, urban or suburban environment, I try and pick the relevant images in my mind and memory that fit the song I’m writing at the time.” Stunningly memorable pictures emerge, as Eiks captures the scenes of her wanderings. “(The song) ‘Away They Fly’ was inspired by a place I stayed in France where I could sit on the roof of the building and watch all the birds fly away during dusk. I was so engrossed watching them as it was so hypnotic.”
Arguably the most unusual and compelling tale from Braids takes us back to “a tiny whisky bar in Japan,” which Eiks describes with great nostalgia. “…The place was almost like someone’s small living room. The barman had made it so tidy and immaculate, and he himself was the same. Whilst telling us how it was great to see Miles Davis live, he put on the Kind of Blue record with a pair of white gloves as not to ruin the vinyl. He was a character and it was so atmospheric which inspired me to write Kind of Blue.”
Compelled to pry into the core of her artistic process, I asked Eiks how she composes the lyrics that characterise these thought-provoking stories. To my surprise, it is not a task which comes naturally. “I can churn out tunes/chord progressions, but when it comes to lyrics, it’s not as easy,” she explains. Consequently, she has eased herself into the practice of constant awareness: “To look for inspiration, I grab whatever piques my interest: anything I see, hear, a conversation with a stranger or with a friend, an image I see on a TV, any phrase that jumps up from a book. As I go about my normal daily life, I seem to have a subconscious radar that looks for inspiration [sic] however small and embryonic they are, and I note them down.” She strives to capture creative stimuli wherever she finds them. “Strong characters or stories also inspire me…For example, I wrote ‘Curtain Call’ after watching a documentary called ‘Grey Gardens’ in which the two main characters left me with a vivid impression.” Gathering these ideas is just the first step of a workflow that then involves transforming her spontaneous jottings into sophisticated poetic arrangements.
When Eiks is lucky, a source of inspiration arrives fortuitously at her door, as did the works of Oscar Wilde, from whom she borrows the lyrics for “Tread Lightly.” Frustrated and unable to produce words to fit an eerie piano melody, she was suddenly struck with the idea to tap into Wilde’s writings, which she had read fondly in school. “I wanted to find something haunting to go with the music quickly, so I read some poems and came across Requiescat by Oscar Wilde which instantly moved me. It’s such a touching poem, and I could imagine Oscar Wilde sitting at the grave of his sister.” Never before had she thought to integrate another’s words into one of her pieces, but to her surprise they blended flawlessly. It seems no surprise to us that Eiks, master of memory, would fall in love with the words of one of the greatest virtuosos of nostalgic prose. “Hopefully Oscar Wilde would approve of this song!” she exclaims.
Eiks’s music allows her words to flourish, and vice versa. Make no mistake, though. As uncommonly creative as she is, Eiks is also fiercely driven. She lives to create music and “[get] lost in the writing process.” For her, “writing music is a form of addiction,” and without it she experiences symptoms of withdrawal. Reliant upon this therapy, Eiks is incapable of straying from her passion, and consequently embraces her inquisitiveness: “What drives me is curiosity. If I use these chords, how would it change the song? If I add a particular instrument, would it change the colour or texture? If I change the melodies how would it sound?” Eiks examines every city in which she sets foot through this lens of curiosity. It has fueled her creative career and driven her to become the artist she is today.
Upon first hearing Braids, I felt I got to know Eiks, but having spoken with her I see yet another side of the artist: the passionate, resolve-driven composer who seeks fulfillment in the words of a poem, the transmitting of an emotion, or even something as simple as musical plucks on a homemade rubber band guitar. “I really don’t know why I love it so much but since I was a child I’ve always liked being creative…drawing or thinking up surreal stories for my comic/manga drawings. I think I’ve inherited this from my mother who used to paint and has arts and crafts hobbies…Even if I only have some rubber bands, wrapped around an object, I will be engrossed in trying to play some tunes with them.”
Her soul is so human, and her songs are so sweetly honest that one can imagine Eiks as an artist’s artist, elucidating her tale of creative highs and lows. However, in speaking with her, this is truly not the case. It is music which feeds her highs, and it never prohibits them. “What keeps me going is my undying love for music and [my] self-belief as well as an incredibly supportive husband.” Surrounding herself with music and with encouraging loved ones, she sees no other life for herself. Tempted to test her self-professed “undying love” for song, I asked Eiks if she has ever had an experience that dissuaded her from pursuing music and how she overcame it. Her answer was blunt, beautiful, and expected: “No.”"
"This is folk music, but it is not background music. Braids is the new album by Japanese-British artist Eiks (pronounced “Aches”), and it might land her on the long list of great folk fingerstyle guitarists. But, if Eiks sat side-by-side with others on that list, she would surely stand out. Far from your typical coffeehouse guitarist, Eiks blends jazzy folk melodies with unpredictable chord modulations and staggering lyrics. Embedded throughout Braids are the strikingly sophisticated embellishments of an innovator on the rise.
Eiks now calls London home, but spent her younger years in Jordan, and then in Japan. Her ability to deliver the unexpected is undoubtedly a product of her worldly exposure to music. In her formative days, her passion for music was piqued by the sounds of pianist and composer Ryuichi Sakamoto. She later became interested in popular folk and alternative artists, naming Nick Drake and Radiohead as two of her greatest influences. Her songwriting imagery, which borrows fondly from these musicians, is reliant upon her poetic grasp of the relationship between humanity and nature. Eiks portrays a woman inevitably linked to her surroundings. Each meaningful moment corresponds to an image from nature: Her former lover, “make[s] hay” in her heart while she reminisces about lying in the grass, “side-by-side like fallen apples.”
With these inspirations tucked away in the back of her mind, Eiks has crafted an album not only deserving of one’s full attention but difficult to savour without it. Braids is less “happy accident” and more “calculated creation.” Eiks fells folk music cliches, instead employing symbols of nature as necessary tools of her storytelling. What better way to depict the life of a girl continually uprooted? Her instrumentation also feeds into this use of earthly imagery. In “Fallen Apples” the jazz-style drums of Matt Snowden pump out a rhythm like fallen fruit hitting the ground. In “Away They Fly” arpeggio guitar notes float by like birds taking flight, one by one.
Eiks paints a nature-laced backdrop upon which to lay imaginative lyrics that have the precision and vibrancy of an evocative libretto. Short and somber—rather than short and sweet—her poetry is perhaps her most exceptional innovation. She envisions the tiny details of scenes of sorrow: “laying pennies on a pendulum,” or, “rays of sun piercing between sycamore trees.” Eiks’s ability to embellish the mundane is the greatest strength of her lyrics. The most banal task, like folding away one’s summer clothes at the beginning of autumn, becomes an expression of longing, loss, and fear of the cold (or lack of warmth in one’s life) in expertly crafted songs like “The Fall.” She sings these lyrics in a soft and humble soprano, with an unusual accent that brings to mind a travelling minstrel or troubadour.
From the cultures of her upbringing Eiks hones in on the greatest artists and creates music in tribute to those she admires. Braids is potentially the first album in which Miles Davis and Oscar Wilde might sit comfortably shoulder to shoulder. And, somehow, even with all these images and influences bumping up against each other, Braids is not distracting or heavy or chaotic. Eiks is an expert at handpicking her allusions, and she only employs those which contribute to her overall narrative. “Kind of Blue” is a nod to the Miles Davis album of the same name, a story told through climbing guitar notes that ring out in an old bar in Japan. “Tread Lightly” takes on a completely different time and place, a cemetery in late winter, where snow has begun melting over the grave of a young woman. This song borrows words from Oscar Wilde’s death prayer entitled “Requiescat.” Somehow, Eiks manages to bring to life Wilde’s dream in this song. A soft, meandering piano feels reminiscent of a late 19th-century piano bar. Layered vocal hums surge eerily forth as if from a Victorian churchyard where the poem’s subject might be buried. In Braids, Eiks masters the art of borrowing and does her heroes proud.
Though an expert of allusion, Eiks is plainly difficult to compare to other artists. At times she embodies the fingerstyle musings of Nick Drake, at others the atmospheric grace of Jeff Buckley. At her best, she is an amalgam of many styles, many places, and many of her own inventions. While “Bottled Dream” brings to mind a folkloric rhapsody, “Curtain Call” is more at home in a smoky folk club in 1974. Title track “Braids” ushers us into the dreamy mental state of a girl writing in her journal, and “Willow Tree” wakes us from that dream in the midst of a midnight storm. Eiks’s flawless melding of spaces and sounds is as surprising and alluring as Bert Jansch practising guitar in a room where Radiohead’s Kid A is playing softly in the background.
From track to track, she will continually surprise you. If melodies were paintings, Eiks would hang them upside down and discover that the view is better from another perspective. Braids takes you on a journey to all the places you never realised you wanted to visit simply because you didn’t know they were there. It is a walking tour through the countryside, through rooms well lived-in, and through experiences, we may never have thought to share before. It is an album of memory and homage, tooled and re-tooled like a worn keepsake, and Eiks is an inventive creator who relishes nostalgia and excels in the preservation of life’s tiniest moments."
Here is a lovely review of Away They Fly by Trevor Elkin of Gold Flake Paint:
"They say we are a product of our unique experiences, so, what matters most is how we make sense of them. There is so much we don’t understand and can never probably know, but the point is it’s all about trying. New to us, Japanese-British DIY artist Eiks is no stranger to this endless quest, and its lessons are something which course through her work.
Shaped by an upbringing in Jordan, life in London, Japan and travelling the world, Eiks’ self-taught folk-touched music makes sharp observations about the world, rendering it both familiar and alien. From her debut album Braids, due in July, ‘Away They Fly’ is a tender welcome to Eiks’ profoundly dreamy world, stirred by her haunted vocals. The scene gently undulates, people and places shift in and out focus, while weeping strings and lightly picked guitars describe the only constant presence, of birds soaring above it all.
Close your eyes and fall into the simple, magical beauty of Eiks below."
May 12th 2017
"alas no sound links on this just yet, safe to say it’s something very special. a trailer single ‘away they fly’ has had us captivated and swooned in its ethereal web, it comes lifted from a debut full length looming on the horizon entitled ‘braids’ that’s due for adoring sometime early July. By Eiks, described in passing as a Japanese / English songwriter reared on the beautified craft of Ryuichi Sakamoto and much beguiled by the influence of Nick Drake and Radiohead, ‘away they fly’ is charmed in sprays of honey toned pastorals that weave and flicker throughout all the time opining and genuflecting to evoke a sense of a wood crafted wonderland daydreamed in mysterious enchantment, the vocals like willowy siren calls sigh to an airy folk psalm twinkled in noir toned string swathes, if its references you require then you couldn’t go far wrong than imagining a hazily twilight set picnic around whose feasting layout sat members of the Owl Service, Oddfellows Casino and Beautify Junkyards."
April 30, 2017
‘Morsel of Love’ is a wonderful journey through a fictional world conjured up by Japanese-British singer-songwriter, Eiks. Her choice of lyrics are emotive and magical, the melody line long drawn out and meandering in tune and tale; the absent minded hummings of a daydreamer. The guitar introduction to the song feels relaxed, but is in fact in driving five eight time and Eiks’ use of the major and minor third makes for an ambiguous tonality. The juxtaposition of major and minor, driving rhythm and stretched out melody gives the song a dual nature and the inconclusive ending on the seventh makes it feel as though it disappears like a dream; a cloud drifting through the subconscious. The cello adds a beautiful warmth to the guitar and voice, filling out the harmonies and enhancing both the melancholic feeling of the minor and the bright, uplifted passages in the major. The harmonisation of the melody with a second vocal line further enriches the changeable tonalities and offers a synchronised echo adding to the dreamlike quality of the song. Evidently a thoughtful composer and sensitive artist, Eiks has created a unique soundscape and ‘Morsel of Love’ is a song at once simple and intricate, which reveals this in all its splendour.
"It's a wonderful EP..it's well worth getting it. It really is beautiful..character driven.. wonderful details, beautiful observations"
Nic Treadwell on Homegrown Podcast on Morsel of Love EP
"A beautiful haunting voice, unusual chord progressions and keenly observed words make this Japanese - British folk artist a memorable and enchanting experience."
David Durant , Under the Radar Brooklands Radio on Morsel of Love EP
Japanese-British singer-songwriter Eiks released her debut EP, ‘Morsel of Love’ on the 28th February. Self-taught talent, and self-penned songs, Eiks’ presents beautiful little snippets of stories throughout the 5 tracks on her debut EP. She draws you into dreamy, fairytale worlds of gossiping foxes and girls in red shoes, and bittersweet remembrances of past acquaintances. In addition to her own lyrical piano and plucked guitar parts, she has expanded her sound for the EP to include delicate strings, occasional splashes of cymbals, and ethereal backing-vocals… The structure of Eiks’ songs, which feature lovely and unexpected chord progressions, gloriously haunting melodies and are topped off by her pure, sweet voice, all combine together in a gorgeous blend. Eiks performs live in venues around London on guitar and piano and I have had the pleasure of seeing her perform numerous time. She is always a delight – funny, modest and mesmerizing, and you catch glimpses of her calibre as a live performer in the EP, with the hint of a smile present in her vocals throughout. The eponymous title track ‘Morsel of love’ is a pretty piece in 5/4 time which diarises a late night walk. In contrast to the elegant harmonised instrumentation of the rest of the EP, the third track ‘Remember you’ is a paired down, vocal and guitar only offering. It is at once mournful and promising, and suits the purity of Eiks’ voice, with just a touch a reverb carrying through the lingering long notes at the end of each line. The final track ‘The Red Shoes’ builds to a pleasing crescendo and rounds off the EP beautifully.
Bliss in Everyday Normality, Quiet Snow, let nothing taint you Review of Morsel of Love by Rob Thom
My dear friend, London-based Japanese-British singer songwriter Eiks has released an amazing and beautiful debut EP, Morsel of Love, which once encountered, like a python’s grip, refuses to release your attention. Against a rich tapestry of intricate acoustic guitars, haunting layered vocals, piano, and precise string arrangements, Eiks meticulously observes and imagines the hopes, longs and dreams of her fellow urban dwellers.
Her style is deceptively naïve; stories that at first seem merely simplistic observations of her fellow urban citizens, but whose stories and inner passions reveal themselves through the accomplished writing of Eiks’ imaginations into their lives. The Chase seemingly charts a city worker’s daily morning commute, yet Eiks’ confidence in her writing, and the complex vista she paints in our minds, demands we ask where his fate and guarded inner demons will eventually take him. Eiks often writes in the third person, as if to discourage the listener to associate her own feelings to the characters she creates; Eiks often presents us with a situation, a choice, but it is up to us to decide what will happen. Remember You is an exception in this collection of five songs, being the most openly autobiographically emotionally charged; a bittersweet lament, primed and ready to explode yet always keeping its outward composure – simmering like the pot of stew in Quiet Snow. Still waters run deep.
Eiks has an original songwriting voice, and an eye fixed on her immediate surroundings; the daily grind, the slivers of nature in the urban environment. Repeat listens are rewarded as new layers of each song reveal themselves, and the complex arrangements slowly bloom like spring flowers, or the urbanites that are so prevalent in her writing; each finding their own unique space within the structure of the song.
This is an accomplished and confident debut from start to finish, and a haunting bittersweet listen.