Wednesday, July 6th, 2011
Review of Emmy The Great’s Virtue
Alex LakeOne of my most anticipated records of the last few years was First Love, the debut from London’s Emma-Lee Moss, aka Emmy The Great. I’d spent well over a year with my own custom compilation of her various singles, EPs and random releases on repeat before the album proper came out and perhaps inevitably felt a bit let down, though for reasons entirely my own and even so, it still made my 2009 year-end list.
There was no such weight of expectation surrounding her second album, which isn’t to say that I wasn’t anxious to hear it – I most certainly was – but even not having heard any of the new material, I figured I had a pretty good idea what to expect: acoustically-built pop songs with wonderfully clever lyrics delivered in Moss’ distinctively precise diction; more of First Love would have been just fine with me. So of course, it goes without saying that Virtue pretty much floored me. The backstory of the record isn’t essential to appreciating it, but understanding what the last couple of years have been like for Moss provides some invaluable context for the record. Read the unabridged feature from The Guardian for the full story but in brief, Moss was engaged until her formerly atheist fiancee found God and left her for the life of a missionary.
Life-altering stuff, to say the least, and so it’s no surprise that whereas the songwriting on First Love felt like a collection of tales told through characters, Virtue feels considerably more personal, even filtered through the allegories – many religious and/or mythical – that suffuse the songs. Though it’d be justified if it was, Virtue is anything but a pity party – the songs constantly struggle for some critical distance from their inspiration, adding a certain tension to the proceedings, but on “Trellick Tower” that struggle ends, the tension evaporates and the album closes on its most emotionally unguarded and affecting moment.
Virtue is a darker and weightier record than the debut, both lyrically and musically. The latter point comes thanks to the addition of more electric and electronic textures to go with the more conventional acoustic instrumentation, courtesy of producer Gareth Jones and long-time collaborator Euan Hinshelwood. Moss was never comfortable being associated with the “anti-folk” tag that tied her to some of her peers and former bandmates, but only the most stubborn would call Virtue a folk record; it’s diverse and rangy enough that anything more specific than “pop” would be debatable. If you needed more adjectives, however, I would submit any or all of “contemplative”, “elegant”, “wistful”, “gorgeous” and “essential”.
The Westmoreland Gazette has an interview with Moss about the new record. Being independently released in the UK, there’s not much chance of a North American release but Virtue is available digitally at both eMusic and iTunes. Similarly, touring over here seems unlikely but Emmy is doing two US dates in Philadelphia and New York next month, and yes, I may well have moved my flight to New York up a day so as to be able to make the show at The Studio At Webster Hall. What of it?
Gearing up for the release of Skying next week – everywhere but North America at least, we have to wait until August 9 – The Horrors have made the whole album available to stream and have also released a first video from the new record. They play Lee’s Palace on September 27.
Everyone expecting a new Spiritualized record this Fall, get ready to wait a little longer – State reports that a series of UK dates have been postponed until next year, wit said new album now targeted for a February 2012 release.
And Gallagher the elder – that’s Noel – has just announced details of his first post-Oasis projects. Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds will release their self-titled debut on October 17 and next year, look for a collaborative record with psychedelic-electronia outfit Amorphous Androgynous. Or don’t. Fuller details at The Quietus.
The Independent checks in on some of the one-time heroes of Britpop, including Louise Wener of Sleeper; she’s now an author and I just realized that the two volumes of her Britpop memoirs – Different For Girls and Just For One Day are actually the same book under different titles. I wish I’d realized that before I bought them both.
Slicing Up Eyeballs reports that The Jesus & Mary Chain will be embarking on an extensive catalog reissue campaign this Fall; it begins on September 19 with double-CD/single-DVD sets for Psychocandy and Darklands, followed by Automatic and Honey’s Dead the following week and final two albums Stoned & Dethroned and Munki on October 3.
Post-punk forebears The Raincoats will be remastering and reissuing their 1981 album Odyshape on September 13 and follow that up with some North American touring that includes a September 23 date at Wrongbar in Toronto.