Saturday 11 June 2011


This is Emmy the Great's new album, Virtue. Debuting with First Love in 2009, Emmy the Great (real name Emma-Lee Moss), originally performing with Lightspeed Champion, becoming his vocalist for a brief period in 2007 alongside Florence Welch. She went on to perform as solo artists, and her indie folk roots haven't been forgotten. The nature of its creation is very interesting, and involves crowdsourcing for funds, Emma-Lee herself saying, "Instead of relying entirely on a label to make and tour our record, we can skip the middleman and go directly to you, the fans for support."

Last week I heard Emmy the Great's 'Iris'. It's a lovely track filled with some nice snare rolls, light guitar effects, driving the song into a state of pop ambience. It's quite kitsch music. And of course, there is Emma-Lee's voice. This, the first single from her second album, 'Virtue', gives a hint of her vocal and lyrical prowess.

Emma-Lee said it herself, if she hadn't been a musician, she would be "a writer of some sort, in different formats." And it certainly shows. 'Paper Forest (In The Afterglow Of Rapture)' is a song that really delves into her thoughts. The folky sound is taken over nearly completely by her words, especially the lyrical acrobatics in the bridge, which come flying out consistently, supported by big harmonies. The line, "It's like the way I have to write down almost everything I see" says a lot about her love of writing songs, and her passion in telling a story or evoking a feeling is rivalled only by the skill in which the executes that passion.

The elegy-lovesong of 'Exit Night / Juliet's Theme' offers that said skill and passion to your ears with two guitar chords, slow and seemingly lamenting a lost country of "telegrams and tailcoats and nobody to grieve it," going on to conjure some wonderful imagery by comparing tail lights of cars on a motorway as "the roses of an infinite bouquet" and paying tribute to "ghosts of railways and candleholders." The song eventually shifts into blissful piano, sneaking in references from Romeo and Juliet, and picks up energy in the midsection. The second part (Juliet's Theme) arpeggiates guitar chords in 6/8 time, becoming a quiet soundtrack to Juliet's feelings as interpreted by Moss.

Her insight is even more powerful in opener, and my favourite, 'Dinosaur Sex', prophetic with lines like "I think I see the future when I sleep" and pondering in the swaying reverb tower of a chorus: "And dinosaur sex led to nothing, then maybe we will lead to nothing." It's a really interesting, original way of questioning our futility, and works entirely without flaw. The same goes for the frustrated, botanic metaphor that is 'A Woman, A Woman, A Century Of Sleep', spine-chilling with its choral sections. Below is a live recording of this hypnotic song.

But musically, what is this album? For the most part it is an acoustic sound (especially 'Cassandra'), however it constantly strays into the anti-folk genre - which is essentially experimental folk; folk with added, unexpected sounds that you wouldn't expect to hear; the traditional and the untraditional. And indeed there are some interesting sounds on Virtue - the odd yawn sound in 'Creation' that comes in and out of audibility, the defiant, one-note bass synth that begins (and carries on throughout) 'Sylvia', the underlying dark synth in 'North', and the overall giant, overarching pendulous feeling that powers 'Dinosaur Sex'.

More unfolk comes with 'North' - a surprise track; an essentially country and western rhythm is ultimately built over with a beast of a saw wave, Emma-Lee's words undercut with an angry whisper - it's exactly what she sings about in 'Dinosaur Dex'; the old being paved with new. Similarly, I cannot relate whatsoever to final song, 'Trellick Tower' - save for the parts in this song which flip into a minor scale and build up to a brooding dark cloud if sound. Other than that, its religious imagery and piano-ballad style at times lack energy.

This is not to say that this album is bad. There are moments of utter greatness, gleaming gems of the stuff both lyrically and melodically, that will stick with you - the highlights being dinosaur sex (a winner for me), paper forest, with obvious single iris being a solid third. These are tracks most different - in tempo, style, rhythm - to the rest of the material. If you're after a folk sound with a twist, combined with what isn't far short of lyrical genius sung beautifully, you'll be in for a treat with this album.

Virtue is released Monday 13th June.

In the meantime, check her Myspace and official site.

Want to know what the thoughts were behind each song? Well, here is an exclusive track by track guide from Emmy the Great, for The Guardian.

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