Back in late 2020, we made the acquaintance of Jelena Ćirić, a Canadian artist of Serbian heritage, who happened to be living in Reykjavik, Iceland. Both the cultural and geographical diversity certainly intrigued us and led to several spins of Jelena’s debut “Shelters One” EP (reviewed by GDW). Clocking in at just a little over 15 minutes in length, while short in content, the four piano-led tunes proved a very worthwhile and rewarding listen.
Just a little over eighteen months later, Jelena returned with a new single, “Rome” (reviewed by GDW’s Jess Lahr), and subsequently announced that her 2021 Icelandic Music award winning folk album would be followed with another EP, aptly titled “Shelters Two.” Released in October 2023, Jelena picked up perfectly from where her first EP left off, delivering another four original and beautifully heartfelt compositions in the process.
A little over four months later, an unexpected return to England – my native homeland – led to some connecting flights in Reykjavik (no opportunities to visit the city). During the stopover on our return journey, we were mesmerized by the snow falling outside of the terminal – and after some momentary exposure to such elements when disembarking the plane, we were very happy to be sheltered in place. Iceland! Shelter! Suddenly thoughts of Jelena’s music came to mind, music to be enjoyed once back home.
Not unlike the first EP, “Shelters Two” explores themes of self and place, as well as classic themes like love – written and recorded during the pandemic, allowing Jelena time for deeper reflection. Whether alone at the piano or accompanied by both strings and accordion, she beckons the listener into her own musical hideaways – carefully constructed shelters for exploring difficult questions.
Kicking off with “Rome,” memories came flooding back from that initial spin of the single back in 2021. Included here on the EP is an additional bonus radio version, which shaves a little over a minute of music from the 6:30 run time from the original version. The inclusion of this radio edit pushes the total EP run time out to 21 minutes – sharing the format from its predecessor, whilst leaving us craving much more than this short glimpse into Jelena’s world. “Shelters Two is my attempt to sort through the experiences of moving around the world and two years of a pandemic and understand my life as some sort of whole,” Jelena offers. “It’s an attempt to chart the threads connecting me to the women around me, to my ancestors, to my inner self.”
“Other Girls” finds Jelena making those connections with this piano-led soft jazz number, itself a hauntingly beautiful stripped-down declaration of solidarity with other women. “Women often compare themselves to other women and we usually put ourselves down as a result,” Jelena offers – “Not more charming than other girls / More disarming than other girls / Not more humble or more true / Really I am just like other girls” – “This song was my reminder that we’re all fighting that battle and we have more in common that we think.”
As for the theme of ancestry, Jelena pays homage to the recent passing of her grandmother with “Fig Tree,” an ode to generational ties and trauma. With her powerful, understated vocal prowess as the central focus, minimal instrumentation ebbs and flows to accentuate the emotional moments perfectly. “There is no green growing / In my sunless yard / Here the sea gives plenty / But the soil is hard.” “She was an incredibly strong woman who went through a lot of hardship,” Jelena recalls. “I loved and respected her but there was a huge generational and cultural gap between us. This song is about mourning a complicated past while facing your future with understanding and acceptance.”
Given that my initial recollection of Iceland is one of harsh wintry weather, I’m naturally drawn towards Jelena’s melancholy exploration of inner connections rather than outward ones that form the central theme of “Inside Weather.” “Won’t you come over / I already looked up how long it take you to walk here / I’ve been feeling strange these days / Entertaining notions and emotion in waves.” “I wrote Inside Weather during the first winter I lived in Iceland,” Jelena shares. “The darkness coupled with trying to put down roots in a new place, it was a challenging time: dark and stormy both outside and in my head.”
With “Shelters Two,” Jelena may offer us a short musical chamber-folk journey, but do not approach this one with any less than your full attention – and truly marvel at her deeply reflective, contemplative, personal collection of tunes. With plans to tour parts of ON and QC next month (fingers crossed), it is strongly recommended that you savor any opportunity to hear tunes from both EPs should Jelena be visiting a town near you.
Photo Credit: Juliette Rowland