"The midnight ferry crashed into the fire escape…"
That's the line that opens the lovelorn "New York Time," a stripped-back acoustic track from Maryland artist Cab Ellis. The song, featuring only a guitar, a harmonica, and Ellis' twisting voice, moves back and forth between surreal images like this and memories of a tumultuous relationship, playing with absurdity and heartache with a performatively casual air.
Born Connor Abeles, Ellis came up as a rapper while studying at Emerson College in Boston. Most recently, he released his mixtape Gorgeous Nonsense, a multi-year effort primarily focused on Ellis' version of hip-hop. "New York Time" is a far cry from that world, leaving behind his complex bars for a more contemplative folk sound, closer to city-bound folk-rockers like L.A. Salami. Ellis sings with a slight ironic edge lurking under his voice, especially on lines like "I don't wanna look at you too hard / I'm afraid I might see a future." His bitterness masks a classic ballad heartbreak, lending a theatrical authenticity to Ellis' coarse drawl-singing. "New York Time" seems to be Ellis experimenting not only with genre, but with emotional registers, what styles and sounds can bear the weight of the stories he wants to tell.
It's unclear whether this experiment will turn into a full-blown pivot, but either way, this experimental artist is worth paying attention to.
Matthew Apadula is a writer and music critic from New York. His work has previously appeared on GIGsoup Music and in Drunk in a Midnight Choir. Find him on Twitter @imdoingmybest.
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