“M.K.,” the final song from Lys Guillorn’s new EP I’m a Boy, begins with a simple picked chord. Then the drums, bass, and vocals jump in together.
“You could never pay attention enough to get a read on me,” Lys Guillorn sings, “when there’s too many things to say today.”
The music is all jangly guitars, steady bass and drums, the drone of an organ. But the vocal shuffles around the rhythm, no line quite like another.
“Your tongue might get blistered, though in your defense,” she keeps singing, “you don’t know what I meant when I said what I said.” The elliptical lyrics are a signpost for what’s coming, even through the catchy chorus. What follows is a bridge of guitar and bass lines that weave around each other like musical strands of DNA while the drums drive straight ahead. It’s disorienting. It’s steadying.
“There’s a dream within a dream, and my eyes are open wide,” Guillorn sings. “My hands stuck to my sides, knowing we’re gonna die.”
At once accessible and mysterious, “M.K.” is a fitting end to I’m a Boy, which in its tight span of five songs, most clocking in around three minutes long, packs in more musical twists and turns than many albums twice its length. Lys Guillorn and her band are celebrating the album’s release this Friday at Cafe Nine, playing alongside James Maple and Ian Fitzgerald & Something Else.
I’m a Boy’s most straight-ahead moment — a cover of the Who’s “I’m a Boy” — is itself one giant twist. The song is already quirky enough, as it’s pulled out of a story the classic rock band concocted about a future in which parents can choose the genders of their children. Simply by singing it, Guillorn — on lead vocals and guitar — bends the song’s gender, and thus gives its meaning yet another turn of the crank in a way that Pete Townsend would surely appreciate. It also, of course, helps that Guillorn and her band — Peter Riccio on drums, Julie Beman on keys and background vocals, and Eric Bloomquist on bass and backing vocals — rock it.
But the twists continue. The polished pop gem of “Something,” on which Beman shines on the keys, gives way to “Nothing To It,” which in a minute and a half moves from a twangy gallop to an organ-driven two-step to a quick, economical guitar solo to a hip-shaking rhythm held down by Bloomquist and Riccio. “Boylesque” is punctuated by machine-gun stops and starts made more surprising by how seamlessly the band executes them.
Through it all is Guillorn’s voice, which has never sounded better as she navigates her songs’ sinewy melodies, delivering lyrics that at times are like intriguing puzzles. (“What’s written in the space left blank at the bottom of the page? A view of the future hidden away.”)
“I wasn’t happy as a child,” Guillorn sings on “M.K.” “When on Halloween a neighbor saw me smiling, it was the mask that freed me, if you get my meaning.” It’s a tease, and a delightful one. Lyrically, the meaning Guillorn hints at seems always just over the horizon. But the music on I’m a Boy holds the promise that, if we just follow its sharp turns, we just might find our way there. And maybe, on Friday, do the mashed potato while we’re at it.
Lys Guillorn and her band perform at Cafe Nine with James Maple and Ian Fitzgerald & Something Else on March 24. Doors open at 9:00. Tickets are $8.