Ellis Is Adrift on 'no place that feels like'

BY Megan LaPierrePublished Apr 24, 2024


A line in "what i know now," one of the singles from Linnea Siggelkow's sophomore album as Ellis, has stuck to my side like a bur. The self-stylized diss track about working on her 2020 debut album, Born Again, with Fat Possum Records ("Some old dudes from Mississippi") sees the artist recall, "You told me I was both too specific and too vague."

This dilemma is one that haunts the walls of no place that feels like, where the foundation of Siggelkow's obvious talent holds up a frame of empty gestures. The record opens with "blizzard," where the Hamilton singer-songwriter begins promisingly by telling us about being born in a late-winter snow storm, "When the sun sets before dinner / And the sky goes on forever," over warm, folky fingerpicking. Despite the word "intimate" being overused in the pieces blurbed in Ellis's press notes, this is one of the only things I learned about Siggelkow from no place that feels like.

That same song that started so promisingly ends on this line: "Measuring the distance in the number / Of songs that I can listen to in my car." It's hardly the most emotionally resonant of observations, relatable in the same neutral way as small talk about the weather. The references to first snows and other hallmarks of winter continue across the LP — the kind of referential through-line I'm particularly primed to appreciate. Except there's no payoff; no moment of epiphany. It's all signifiers with no significance, or at least any that Siggelkow makes known to the listener.

What she does make known is that she's seemingly in the camp of singer-songwriters who feel that their careers have really been affected by negative reviews (I'm truly sorry if this counts). Siggelkow's debut being rated a 5.9 by Pitchfork is something she cites as having gotten her dropped by the label she released it on. Reading that review now, I sympathize, and even get somewhere closer to understanding when critic Emma Madden describes the rare emergence of Ellis's unique perspective in the words of Ezra Pound: "a brief gasp between one cliché and another."

The most diss track-worthy bit of "what i know now," the something to latch onto, is Ellis's reference to this line in the review. A poetry professor — the same one who would remind me to show restraint — once warned me about my use of clichés, making me feel very personally placed within the Ellis critical paradox.

Listening to Born Again now, though, I'm struck by how much the textures feel better suited to Siggelkow's bedroom pop slowcore tendencies. On no place that feels like, there's a glossy sheen in place of the fuzz that became the namesake of her 2018 EP. In spite of its glisten, "balcony hymn" might come closest to the essence of Ellis's earlier work and its inherent prettiness juxtaposed with the macabre, as Siggelkow sings, "You can have your way with me / Blood and guts and atrophy / Give me a lobotomy / To make me feel okay." 

"taurine" is a song named after an amino acid found in fish and meat and, occasionally, energy drinks. It's about a trip to Niagara Falls and I wish it wasn't equally as underwhelming. "home" fills in the album title's blank — a clichéd inference that the act of leaving out feels deeply ironic — wrapping Siggelkow's voice in swathes of Auto-Tune that, I suppose, accurately reflect the alienation she feels in tapping her proverbial ruby heels together, but don't add much beyond the obvious and a momentary jolt of the unexpected.

The record was co-produced by Siggelkow and Charles Spencer, a member of Dizzy, who operate in a very dreamy, synth-forward pop landscape — and this definitely comes across in the direction the pair took with the production, regardless of whether it best serves Ellis or the material. Interestingly, "it'll be alright" is the only track that brings in another producer (Derek Hoffman, Canada's very own Jack Antonoff, who also used to play in an emo band called Brighter Brightest), who manages to balance out the lustre with a bit of distortion.

For me, the criticisms that have been lobbed against Ellis are the kind that hit close to home. As a writer, listening to no place that feels like makes me squirm in these hard truths. On this record, Siggelkow feels stuck in the waiting room — it's an apt description of the way depression can feel, but there's the hard-to-shake sense that this album was something she needed to do in order to move on and build a bridge to the next phase in her creative journey.

Mercifully, it seems like she's closest to passing the threshold on closing track, "devil's punchbowl." In the title alone, we get that much-needed specificity (and a fun eyebrow raise for those not GTA-literate) while maintaining the wandering spirit of the album in a very literal way. The swell of cascading synths and layers of reverb are finally less of a mask and more of a sigh of relief; the album's disparate elements coming together and clicking into place now that we're 11 tracks deep. The stuttering final notes feel like waking up with a gasp.

Ellis's emo-tinged bedroom pop has decidedly left the bedroom behind in favour of faster BPMs, crisp synth work and song structures that are clearly designed to wax anthemic, and it all comes across a bit forced. That being said, it's unchallenging and palatable by design. Not everyone needs music to be gripping to feel held by it.

no place that feels like lacks payoff, Ellis's vagueness undeniably overtaking her specificity this time around. Where did this shined-up experimentation, half-hearted attempts at vulnerability, and waning hooks get Siggelkow? Hopefully where she needed to go, but it doesn't really take me anywhere worth writing home about.


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