“My eyes were bigger than my heart / She knew that right from the start” sings a pained Jay Elle in his song “Sickly Sweet,” from the new record Ease Up, and though his words are dripping with discordant emotion, his focus is unmistakably strong and centered. As endearing as it is insightful, Elle’s Ease Up EP and its six songs – “Sickly Sweet” included” – are a collective statement piece conceived with the purpose of relaxing us while also provoking deeper thought about the world, and as anyone who knows this man’s work is already well aware, it’s as slick a sonic collection as you’ll get your hands on right now.
Though it can be said for “Sickly Sweet,” not all of the songs on Ease Up are constructed around Elle’s lyrical wit and wisdom exclusively; actually, “By the Blade,” the title track and “Take a Holiday” are very guitar-oriented, and “Never Dreamed (I Could Be the One)” is, essentially, a synth pop song adapted for the needs of a folk-rock singer/songwriter. There’s a lot of layers to this record, and even though it contains but six compositions, it has the robust feel of a full-length album and then some. The master mix here does a lot to help define the mood in the music, but I wouldn’t say that it’s a required element in any given Jay Elle performance. Contrarily, soundboard wizard Brent Kolatalo is bringing all of the color in his vocal to the surface rather than inserting new, artificial textures in spots where Elle might have had shortcomings in the past.
Their studio chemistry is off the charts, but there’s no examples that I could point to in this tracklist where Elle sounds overly-aided or effectively propped-up by his highly respected mixer, whose credits prior to Ease Up include work with heavyweights Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande. “Needs Fixing” is easily one of the most efficiently produced songs that I’ve listened to in the folk genre all year, and in my opinion, it more than justifies getting a copy of Ease Up all by itself. It’s the perfect segue from the country rhythm of “Take a Holiday” into the adult alternative swing of “By the Blade,” but even if it had been pushed up to the start of the record, it would still be one of the most jarringly-arranged and melodically rousing compositions that Elle has attached his moniker to here or on any other recording he’s cut thus far.
Folk-rock fans aren’t likely to find another extended play out at the moment that is quite like Jay Elle’s Ease Up, and for better or worse, its experimental faceting and multi-interpretive narratives make it one of the more unique records out this season. I can only speak for myself, but I was utterly swept away by the first half of this EP and immersed in the emotional core of the second when I sat down with it this week, and judging from the response that all six of its tracks have been getting lately, I’m definitely not the only critic with these strong sentiments.