Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Great expectations

There's something to be said for giving some artistic decisions to others

As soon as we got hold of an advance of Emmy The Great's much delayed debut album First Love, out 2nd February* through her own Close Harbour auspices, we did the only thing we could do. That is to say, make for the sub-folder in our 'Music' folder where we keep all the demos we've accrued through nefarious means over the last two and a half years and create an alternate album tracklisting of songs not on the album. Taking out the duplications and covers we came up with Secret Circus, The Woods, Gabriel, Edward Is Dedward, Atoms, Two Steps Forward, If I Had Known, Canopies And Grapes, Hold On, Aiko, History Of Britain, The Hypnotist's Son - a twelve track, 41 and a half minute collection, it says here, that would serve as a gorgeous lo-fi selection of loss and discovery. Maybe if sales go well she'll save it for the deluxe edition.

Course, we say "her" as we're so used to Emma-Lee Moss centre front on stage with acoustic in hands, faraway look in eye, love and loss at boiling point in her heart, but it does seem that, like PJ Harvey and KT Tunstall, Emmy The Great has moved from ease of use solo stagename to name of band, Moss keen to promote Euan Hinshelwood (Stars Of Sunday League) and Tom Rogerson (one third of Three Trapped Tigers) as equal musical partners even if the key of the lyrical content remains all hers. It's unfortunate that circumstance has diluted First Love's potential shock of the new, with 2008's folky arrivistes pulling the rug from under her after leading the Britfolk line for a little while (pop fact: her debut 7" was released in the same month both Laura Marling and the also occasionally compared Kate Nash made their London live debuts), although there's always been speculation that it was her desire to control everything about what she writes herself that was the sticking point with many a high-up industry mogul. In fact, in some sort of cosmic joke, events have moved to make a latecomer out of her in a way she couldn't have expected, as the title track sees her be reminded of an ex by a memory of "the first time you did rewind that line from Hallelujah. *pause* The original Leonard Cohen version."

Those lyrics - not those lyrics in particular, the lyrics in general - may or may not form a narrative but Moss has made it evident that large parts of it are based on a failed, some say destructive relationship (we have a theory, but this is not the place to speculate) The press release refers to her worldview as "a skewed vision of the Home Counties, Radio 4, romanticised wartime novels and Evelyn Waugh, soundtracked by Noel Coward and Sunday school choirs", but while there is something of the arty cynic about her there's a universiality about the sentiments as lives and loves contract and fall apart with indecency, the pain of being together more than the pain of being apart (air pie with no crust to the first person in the comment box to spot that reference). We're writing a proper review of this for TLOBF so won't go into great detail yet, but of the songs reworked for the album not all work in their fleshed out form as well as they did when there was barely any arrangement but voice and guitar - looking particularly at MIA here, which on the My Bad EP worked because it sketched out the mis en scene of being trapped in a car with only a mixtape for company with its minimal backing fragility, and has now been fleshed out a little and had its arrangement crucially changed to become more all-encompassing, losing that extra something. On the other hand, City Song is a well paced closer, returning to opener Absentee's theme of getting out and getting on with your life, starting anew, paring back the backing just enough for the cathartic emotional strike of the last two lines to retain their hit.

The new songs? They more than pass muster. 24 begins "You are watching a programme for exactly an hour/All of these hours, they will add up to a day", gives away a key influence in the lyric "you are still not Charles Bukowski and I am not Diane Cluck" and turns into an outline of a long doomed relationship. War's sawing strings sound monumental but keep the still small voice of Moss' solitude at the centre, while First Love has a martial grace and an unalloyed joy in its evil thoughts (it's loosely based on the Samuel Beckett short story that gives song and album its title), and Bad Things Coming, We Are Safe jauntily expresses surprise that the rest of the world functions normally when gut feeling tells you it shouldn't be. And Moss' dry wit remains, if more sparingly - On The Museum Island sums up the situation of the daughter of a famous father who's just died under media scrutiny as that "you'd taken your last ever bus".

Interesting, isn't it, that it looks like First Love is going to go under the radar just as Emmy did when she appeared, but for an entirely different reason ie she's a female singer-songwriter but she's not electropop so nobody's noticing. It's from such stealth work that Moss and co work best, ready to beguile the unsuspecting on her and their own terms.

(* Also the date of release of Andrew Bird's extraordinarily good Noble Beast which we'll definitely write more about in time. Sky Larkin's The Golden Spike is also down for that date, although one source claims it's been moved back a week. Ah, we'll find out in time.)

Emmy The Great - Edward Is Dedward (demo)

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