By Jeremy Hallock
By James Khubiar
By Observer Staff
By Kelly Dearmore
By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
The title on the cover of Timo Ellis' first solo effort is The Enchanted Forest of Timo Ellis, while the one on the spine of the disc reads The Enchanting Schizophrenia of Timo Ellis. This is a telling detail for an album (four-song EP, actually) as all over the place stylistically as this. Falling somewhere between Beck and Nirvana, Ellis has produced a fun, greatly varied debut in just four sweet songs.
Ellis is better known as the drummer for Cibo Matto, though his contribution to that group never betrayed the range he demonstrates here. Instead of showing off his drumming ability by indulging in solos, Ellis establishes himself foremost as a clever songwriter and capable singer with ambitions beyond his day job. On Forest, Ellis sings and plays just about everything, with a little help from his friends, including Cibo Matto bandmates Duma c.e. Love, Sean Lennon and Yuka Honda. Thanks to their contributions, Forest sounds like a full-fledged band instead of the work of one man. Despite that fact, Forest never sounds like a Cibo Matto spin-off; the only quality Ellis borrows from Cibo Matto is originality.
The album's first track, "El Serape," also happens to be the most ambitious one, an epic that begins as a bouncy pop song with Ellis singing in Spanish then unexpectedly morphs into a distorted rock anthem. The song teeters between these two forms until Ellis switches to English lyrics, and, ironically, then it becomes the catchiest South American lounge instrumental this side of Sergio Mendes. Moments like this make Beck comparison inevitable, but on the contrary, Ellis is creating his own template. By the end of the song, Ellis is pumping out power chords like there's no tomorrow, while he and Duma Love do their best Metallica impression, getting all dark, loud and bothered.
Even on the next track, "Arrivederci," it seems that Ellis just can't resist his punk tendencies. What starts out as a lazy, Elliott Smith-like love song eventually sounds like something the Moog Cookbook finished out while collaborating with Bon Jovi. Which means: simply brilliant. The genre jumping doesn't end there, however. Track three, "Flash Dumbo," is a perfect hip-hop techno rave: bold and thumping, even better than Fatboy Slim at his best. "Lite Brite" brings the indie-metal vein full circle while coming across as Soundgarden minus the lyrical angst. Ellis is obviously not afraid to rock, but his gift is still with melody, as evidenced by the Beach Boys-esque vocals he coos just behind all the distortion on "Lite Brite." Ellis' strength is wrapping metal in sugar, and he makes them seem like the most natural, if schizophrenic, bedfellows. Maybe the title on the spine should be the real one.