Once Upon a Roma

    Stefany Chen/Guardian

    Christina Tsui could make even the most reluctant frat boy want to rip off his striped neon tank top, pull on some footie pajamas and do somersaults through Price Center.

    At first listen, it’s easy to mistake A Book About Elephants for the lullaby cassette your parents played over your bassinet — but Elephants is in fact the nostalgic brainchild of a certain Marshall College sophomore. And in case you took Tsui’s self-pigeonholing on MySpace to heart, the peaceful accoustics and unaffected vocals of EP Milk The Moon don’t actually sound like “whales fighting.” A more accurate comparison might be Iron & Wine, Tristan Prettyman or the Moldy Peaches, a la the “Juno” soundtrack.

    Drooled over as “bedroom recordings” on the blogosphere, her songs weave slow spells on the soft spots of intellectuals with a weakness for contemporary folk. Unsurprisingly, Tsui really does record her music from the comfort of her bedroom. After she posted recordings on MySpace last year, Podington Bear — a side project of the Hush record label — noticed them on a news feed.

    Lucky for Tsui, producer Chad Crouch liked her soft little jingles so much, he decided to help her out with some simple backup instrumentation. Thus, the five delicate tracks of Milk the Moon were born in August 2009.

    Tsui’s Internet personality is rounded out by a series of lifelike, yet slightly unexpected, nature sketches. On her blog, you can scroll past a moose with a pumpkin on its head, followed by a platypus balancing an apple on its snout. You might begin to notice a theme.

    “I really like animals in weird situations,” Tsui said. “I think it’s funny to draw them doing human things.”

    The cut-and-paste handiwork on the cover of Moon doesn’t betray her ultra-indie, cute-overload aesthetic.

    “I get inspired by the imagination and imagery in kids’ books,” Tsui said. In fact, she said she dreams of being a children’s-book illustrator one day. (So it comes as no surprise that her toddler-friendly stage name directly references Babar.)

    One standout on Milk is the whimsical “Face First, Feet First,” which Tsui claims was inspired by a meteor shower that she watched with her family. In the clearest of sleep-voices she swoons, “Fireflies scatter as they milk the moon/ Piles of planets on the tip of my shoe/ I could count them forever/ Face first toward space together.”

    Surprisingly thoughtful and cryptic lyrics, sung in a voice that’s cool as a glass of water, keep her songs from melting into lukewarm MySpace oblivion.

    “I try not to be too literal,” Tsui said. “I think it’s important for the listener to make stories, to try to figure the meaning out themselves.”

    Tsui said her secret songwriting spot is the UCSD Food Co-Op, where she plays her guitar alone at night after she finishes working.

    “I’m an introvert when it comes to making music,” she said.

    But not when it comes to playing it. Tsui has played a couple of shows at the Che Cafe, and hopes to promote herself around San Diego next year — once she gets a car.

    “For me, making music is more than a hobby. I want people to hear it.”

    Want to hear her loveliness for yourself? A Book About Elephants performs live at Cafe Roma next Monday, Feb. 8 at 8 p.m.

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