Steinhardt sophomore Mike Ellis’s new self-titled EP represents a culmination of the NYU artist’s musical efforts. The project finds Ellis, whose real name is Michael Coiro, singing about a host of topics ranging from summer fun to leaving home. Its sound is a mix of pop and country. At five tracks long, Ellis’s effort gives the listener more than enough time to digest his message, which is unfortunately lukewarm at best.
Ellis makes an earnest effort — the rhythm structures are there, the lyrics are present and the instruments are audible, but the summation of these parts amounts to no great feat. The first song, “The Next Time You Hear Me,” is a tune that has Ellis crooning with an electro-tinge reminiscent of Owl City fused with the pop-punk suburban edge of Blink-182 as he sings “I’m sorry mom and dad / you gave all you had / you’re frightened and mad at your son.”
Ellis continues to stick with these electronically altered vocals and, at times like the track “Soak in the Sunshine,” he uses full-on auto-tune. While this strategy may have been effective if Ellis were an aspiring rapper, the choice to fuse auto-tune with pop country is not a welcome one.
To be fair, Ellis does have potential for pop appeal if this is the path he chooses to go down in the future. The song “Other” possesses a groove-able quality with a slickness to it that could definitely be molded into a pop ballad if shopped around to the right producer. Ellis’s vocals sound slightly more organic here than in his other songs, and the track is better for it. The vocals still seem processed under what seems to be a variety of audio effects, but the song’s more pop-oriented vibe lends itself better to this kind of singing.
Ellis does manage to establish a consistent sound, but throughout the EP he references a host of tropes that, when incorporated within such a short project, come off as tiresome and uninspired. In one song, he’s leaving his parents for Nashville — in another, he’s leaving his girl for California. The ideas never feel particularly unique, and the musical quality isn’t good enough to distract from the prosaic lyrics.
The final track, “One Man Piano Show,” is Ellis’s attempt at a piano ballad. The piano melody gets the job done, but Ellis’ electronically altered vocals take away from the organic nature that piano ballads often thrive on. Near the end of the song, Ellis launches into a piano solo. But as a flurry of artificially timed notes bombard the soundscape with perfect timing, it’s quite clear that a program — not a human — is playing the instrument.
If Ellis worked to liven up his sound, he could produce a much better project. The basic structure is there, and Ellis seems to know how to sequence a song. He just needs to work on humanizing his sound. On this EP, Ellis seems to believe that pitch shifting his vocals at every opportunity will simply cover up any inconsistencies. But this is precisely what hampers his music the most.
Mike Ellis’s self-titled EP is available on iTunes, Amazon and all major streaming services.
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