Bedouine’s ‘Bird Songs Of A Killjoy’ Is A Triumph Of 21st Century Folk Music

Moises Galvan

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The first thing you hear on Bird Songs Of A Killjoy is Azniv Korkejian counting you in, one, two, three, breath, and then it begins, the second Bedouine album to live in the world. And live, it does — this album breathes and sighs like a heart finding its way, deftly combining both the effortless joy of birdsong and the potential for darkness and grief that the title suggests, bringing together shadow and light, desire and contentment, spiritual and physical, like all the best folk music does. And somehow, though it would’ve previously seemed impossible, this new record eclipses the initial, self-titled Bedouine offering from 2017.

Before all else, this album would deserve accolades strictly for the vocals. There are some singing voices that sound more like flying than anything else, that soar and float, doing things that seem impossible to the rest of us earthbound humans — Korkejian possesses one. Encountering voices like hers, admirers often remark such a singer could trill grocery lists, or the alphabet, and still be mesmerizing. How much more astonishing, then, that Korkejian’s lyrics and storytelling are directly on par with the quality of her natural instrument.

Winging her way through that opener, a song that longs for the night sky of Kentucky (“Under The Night”), the album really hits its stride three tracks in on “When You’re Gone,” an absolutely stunning meditation on the loss of love that includes devastating use of phrase “phantom limb” in reference to the absent beloved. Pivoting on ambiguity, it’s not clear if her lover is simply not present, or if the relationship has ended, giving the song a subtle tension that elevates it beyond most breakup hymns.

The song is augmented, perhaps, by its placement following up a tune about longing for quality time spent together during a quiet evening at home on “Sunshine Sometimes”; either this longing is intensified on the follow-up track, or the relationship has cracked under the strain. Either reading plays into Korkejian’s knack for layered, complex storytelling, even while the lyrics and verses themselves remain deceptively simple.

Beatles fans who have done their homework will note that Paul McCartney has a similarly-titled track, the instrumental “Sunshine Sometime,” off his 1971 solo album Ram, and whether it’s an intentional correlation or not, there is certainly an air of McCartney sentimentality and tenderness imbued all throughout Bird Song. Speaking with Bedouine last year, she cited great folk singers like Joni Mitchell, Leonard Cohen, and Nick Drake as influences, and surely McCartney belongs in that same realm.

In the middle of the record, a flurry of songs leaning heavily into the bird imagery of the record’s title emerge, as lead single “Bird” comes in a triptych with “Bird Gone Wild” and “Hummingbird,” a reflection on letting go, caging and freeing the self, and life’s uncertainties, in turn. They seem like enormous topics, but Bedouine takes the enormity and makes it fit in the palm of your hand, or marries it to melody that helps alleviate the anxiety of facing life’s greatest challenges.

“Bird Gone Wild,” in particular, gets into some of the autobiographical elements of Korkejian’s life as an immigrant, a storyline that feels particularly poignant and important during an era where America’s current government is recreating the cruelest practices against many of those seeking to enter our country. The song is not overtly political, but becomes so through its personal telling of the story of the Korkejian family, their journey to America, and how the shift impacted the person and artist she became.

And yet, despite all the beauty that comes before, the centerpiece of the album, for me, is “Echo Park,” an ode to our shared home that almost makes me weep for its sly, candid description of this adorably self-important little LA neighborhood. As the area has gentrified, cafes, artists, and all the “avant garde” characters of Sunset Boulevard have become the dominating force here, but Bedouine manages to both poke fun and show love for the place in the same breath — “corporate coming in to bore us / but the wind is fine / long as my rent don’t climb / I’m living in Echo Park.”

Lest the importance of “When You’re Gone” was somehow overlooked on first listen, it appears as a “Reprise” on the second-to-last track of the album, reiterating that alongside her gorgeous voice and meticulous lyrics, Bedouine’s melodies, too, are unparalleled. The repetition is a perfect bookend, lending the whole album an air of the familiar, even though it includes wholly modern elements like its pitch-perfect reading of Echo Park. On her second album, Azniv Korkejian successfully mixes the elegance of folk music past with a delicious sense of the present, living in the world of 2019, nodding toward the genre’s history, and fearlessly one-upping herself in the process.

Bird Songs Of A Killjoy is out now via Spacebomb Records. Get it here.