Bryan Ellis – Cloud of Unknowing EP

Bryan Ellis


On his debut EP, Cloud of Unknowing, a blue-eyed, fresh-faced singer, musician and New York transplant named Bryan Ellis mixes devastating vocals with savvy and soulful R&B, a helping of dubstep, crackerjack production, and an accomplished Bon Iver cover. What comes to fruition over the course of Ellis’ debut release is a self-assured voice with a strong understanding of the soulful, the sensual, and the sort of sounds that are primed for heavy rotation.

You presumably aren’t yet acquainted with the music of Bryan Ellis, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be or shouldn’t be. In full disclosure, some of the genres Ellis is rooted in generally lack appeal for me and rarely have the genuine heart, understanding of atmosphere or pure musicianship found on Cloud of Unknowing. Ellis’ songs are unshakable once you let them in. I can’t remember hearing so many songs primed for soundtrack consideration by television and film music supervisors on one recording in years. Too often, this would seem like a backhanded compliment, but it’s the farthest thing from it.

From the entrancing opening seconds of the “Lions” to the deeply positive and earnest ballad “Wonderful Life,” Bryan Ellis’ debut EP introduces himself as an indelible voice and formidable talent. He cocks a pistol with enough locked ammunition to make a mark on a music genre that too often seems like a wasteland thirsting for ideas in relation to the startling talents Ellis has in abundance.

“Nihilist” creeps open with a haunting sample and an imitation of a wolf howl before unveiling Ellis’ sultry vocals and a legitimately thunderous pop radio chorus topped off with a “la-la-la-la” harmony for good measure. On the song, Ellis deftly juggles sinister atmospherics with pure Top 40-ready candy to impressive effect, and it won’t be Ellis’ only instance of such magical balance on Cloud of Unknowing EP (refer to “Run Away” and “Secret Lover” for further proof).

There is a stunning duality on Ellis’ 9-song, 34-minute collection with the audacity to triumph over the pacesetters of the respective genres he touches. It’s impossible talk about Bryan Ellis further without discussing the sheer perfection of the sexy showstopper and first single, “She.”  The electro-soul gem is a towering achievement that has Ellis oozing sensuality to a boiling point and belting out the hook “she is like heat burning right through me,” all the while backed by intoxicating electronic layers and jagged beats that could make Portishead or Chromatics proud. Truth be told, “She” may well be the best song of its kind since the ominous sensuality of Tracey Thorn’s unforgettable marriage to Massive Attack on 1994′s “Protection.”

The duality inherent in Ellis’ musical choices almost sets up the EP in two distinct halves – both impressive and memorable, but the first half rides a sexier wave of foreboding mood. The first half stretch of “Lions,” “Nihilist,” “Run Away,” “Secret Lover,” and “She” is a stunning run of songs fleshed out with sinister electronic layers and wobbles, thick syrupy beats, massive radio-ready melodies, and an undeniable magnetism. “She” serves as both Cloud of Unknowing’s centerpiece and its guttural climax.

The songs that follow are no less of an achievement for a deeply gifted voice and songwriter making a debut. Ellis offers up a choice cover of Bon Iver’s “Skinny Love” in which he sagely and skillfully transforms Justin Vernon’s stark falsetto classic without bastardizing it. Ellis rounds out Cloud of Unknowing with a trio of ballads: the haunting, if not groundbreaking, “Trouble” and a double dose of elegant soul.

The penultimate “Watch When U Fall” and stellar closer “Wonderful Life,” both John Legend-esque pop ballads with refreshing positivity and gifted lyricism, are far from the moody sensuality of “She” and “Nihilist;” but that doesn’t make them weak by any means. Truthfully, “Wonderful Life,” with its poignant character sketches and optimism worthy of wall engravings, may very well be the finest song on Cloud of Unknowing for many. It could’ve been a chart hit for Marvin Gaye or Stevie Wonder in the ‘70s, or the aforementioned Legend could have taken it to prominence anytime in the past handful of years.

The basic truth at the heart of Cloud of Unknowing is Ellis has the ability to sound like entirely different men with vastly different textures from one song to another, but the sheer vitality and gifts Ellis brings to his songs aren’t diminished with any route he takes. For just about any songwriter with a powerhouse soul voice, the music on Cloud of Unknowing would be worth taking note of. For a  young man with an urgent voice, armfuls of fresh ideas, and a deep understanding of melody, mood, and soul for a first effort, Bryan Ellis’ debut EP achieves excellence.

Cloud of Unknowing EP is available for free download in its entirety.


Bryan Ellis – “She”

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