Paperdoll, Fort Collins singer-songwriter Elyse Miller’s debut effort, is an unusual entry in the seemingly endless catalog of soft, somewhat sardonic music made by acoustic guitar-wielding musicians so ubiquitous in our nation’s coffee shops and open mics.
In a genre — let’s call it “music to wear a beret to” — where songwriters too often produce trite, overlong masturbatory self-tributes to their own perceived musical prowess, Miller has produced a brief, unpredictable collection of short songs that hooks you early on and never fails to surprise you just when you think you’ve figured it out.
Paperdoll’s 10 songs last just under 18 minutes, and these short, simple structures work tremendously to Miller’s advantage. Miller’s soft but precisely wielded voice flows effortlessly over the straightforward chords on the first track, “New Love,” which teases you before ending quickly and entering the next song, a dreamlike, reverb-heavy piece called “Now His Kisses.”
The entire album continues in this manner. Miller refuses to repeat any vocal phrasing or sing any verse or chorus more than a few times the same way, sparing the listener of the repeat-heavy monotony that plagues so many singer-songwriter albums. I have no idea what seeing her live show would look like — the songs on Paperdoll are one to three minutes long, which you would imagine would make for a choppy set — but if it’s as interesting as her album, it’d be worth checking out.
Miller’s lyrics are pointed and political, with a pinch of social commentary. The title track, “Paperdoll,” decries sexual objectification and has Miller singing, “Constant pressure, a driving mania, to be as thin and as smooth as as shallow as paper.” “There is a Reason” bemoans lost love and “I Want to Love You” celebrates new love. The themes of the songs are old ground, sure, but they’re well-executed and fresh-sounding and make for good listening.
Paperdoll is an intriguing album by a songwriter unafraid to experiment and take risks with her music. The short, eclectic collection of songs reveals a smart creator behind them, and I’m interested to see where Miller chooses to go with her music from here.