From a singer-songwriter album, you might hope for a great voice, emotion, mystery, clarity, melody and sonic variety. The ten tracks that comprise Swiss-Israeli storyteller and activist Ella Ronen’s ‘The Girl With No Skin’ tick all these boxes. They are a collection of songs that mix autobiography with the air of magic realist fables.

Some of the biographical experience is extraordinary and uncomfortable, exemplified by the opening song, ‘Truth’. It recounts her experience as a 16-year-old in a Tel Aviv bar renown for serving underage drinkers where she encountered a well-known poet and journalist who invited her back to his apartment and assaulted her. Much later, as an adult she exposed him as a predator. The song takes the form of a letter as Ronen with phrasing reminiscent of Karen Dalton, backed by understated guitar and percussion tells him, “Your has-been ass is on a chair somewhere”.

In addition to being a love letter to Leonard Cohen, ‘Undercover’ refers to her mandatory army service and how her pacifist, daydreaming nature made her an ideal candidate to be an undercover operative. Its storytelling style is akin to ‘In My Tribe’ era 10,000 Maniacs and is blessed with a gorgeous piano melody.

‘Howl’ has verses of self-examination about how to make a relationship work that contrast with its emotive, elongated one-word chorus that manages to be both beautiful and distressed. The unapologetic, neo industrial percussive ‘Fuck Cute’ provides another musical contrast and element to her personality (“Fuck sorry / I’m tired of sorry / Sorry never served me / Fuck perfect / I’m tired of perfect / Perfect never served me”).

The metaphorical title track tells of a girl born with no skin, too sensitive and vulnerable (“I have no skin / who can tell where I end and where I begin”), her voice sounding glorious and accompanied perfectly by the musical arrangement. ‘Feel It Rising’ has intriguing percussive patterns and a quiet strength (“This body is mine / Not yours / Not his”).

The country-tinged ballad ‘I Just Want To See You’ sees her duetting with producer Sam Cohen who co-wrote the song about trying to surmount difficulties in everyday life (“The space between two people might as well be galaxies, and oh, I know this to be true. /But I’ll shine a light, a sign of life, and try to get to you, because in all this space and nothingness /What else is there left to do?”) It is a spectacular piece of beauty and tenderness that has an air of Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazelwood to it.

Musically, the biggest surprise is the massive riffs of ‘The Mall’, telling of the opening of the largest mall in the Middle East when she was 14, dreaming of America and stuffing her bra with cotton balls in response to being judged by the boys. The run-out groove has synthesised voices like an outer and inner monologue detailing challenges to body image demanding that she be quiet, thin and take up less space.

‘Tightrope’ has another gift of a lush melody to set against its lyrical turmoil. The closing ‘Rearview’ recounts the experiences of three generations of matriarchal ancestors including grandmothers who fled from Europe and Iran. It celebrates being “born to a bloodline of dissent” and has a sumptuous arrangement for piano and strings.

‘The Girl With No Skin’ is a hidden gem of an album with not a word or note wasted. It is rich with engaging and imaginative storytelling, making for a great introduction to a major talent.

Ella Ronen: The Girl With No Skin – Out 5th April 2024 (BB Island)

Ronen – Truth (

I was editor of the long-running fanzine, Plane Truth, and have subsequently written for a number of publications. While the zine was known for championing the most angular independent sounds, performing in recent years with a community samba percussion band helped to broaden my tastes so that in 2021 I am far more likely to be celebrating an eclectic mix of sounds and enthusing about Made Kuti, Anthony Joseph, Little Simz and the Soul Jazz Cuban compilations as well as Pom Poko and Richard Dawson.