27th January, 2015
|Photo: Daniel Alexander Harris|
‘I’m always surprised to see so many people’, Emma-Lee Moss explains quietly to a sold out Hackney crowd. She isn’t being modest, Emmy the Great’s path as a musician has seen a slower, more measured ascension than many will have predicted. As a former member of Noah and The Whale and the nu-folk family around them, her excellent debut album ‘Virtue’ remained a hidden gem, capturing that innocence and wide eyed wonder of first love with an emotional precision that missed the hands-in-the-air, festival tent euphoria that her contemporaries thrived on.
The conversational delivery on ‘Paper Forest’ is almost unbearably confessional as if she’s reciting pages from her own diary, whilst ‘City Song’, one of only two songs lifted from her debut album, sounds like a nursery rhyme with tumbling sequences and maudlin ‘ooohs’ and ‘ahhhs’ sugar-coating this song about a young girl forced to mature too quickly by a life she isn’t ready for yet. You can imagine them sitting on a mixtape you’ve made for a guy you’re into, or playing on the stereo as you drive home from a party where you’ve just met the girl of your dreams, capturing those feelings in their simplest and most natural form so not to dilute their power.
‘Swimming Pool’ leads a generous array of new material taken largely from her ‘S’ EP, and they all represent a necessary progression from her earlier work, appearing altogether more considered as her direct lyrical style couples with a wider range of textures to explore the space between what her experiences mean to her, and what they can mean to anyone who might be listening. The gorgeous, programmed backing vocals wailing on ‘Swimming Pool’, or the dense layers of guitar feedback behind the excellent ‘Social Halo’ might have seemed arbitrary on her older songs tonight, but now feel absolutely necessary as she moves away from the comfortable of singer-songwriter framework and experiments more with the emotional properties of her instruments. There are times where she misses the mark, like the widescreen synths that weigh down the already excessive ‘Solar Panels’, but you get the feeling that new EP ‘S’, along with this mini-tour, is as much for her benefit as it is for ours, giving her a chance to clear her throat and test the water with this new aesthetic before becoming completely immersed in it with the recording and touring of her upcoming third album.
The band could certainly be tighter, with an array of missed queues and bum notes culminating in a disastrous rendition of ‘Trellick Tower’ which includes two restarts, a few uncomfortable laughs and Emmy eventually singing out the chord progressions to her mortified, dumbstruck pianist. Emmy and her band are clearly in transition at the moment though, which is fine, as long as they have a clear destination in mind. New song ‘Phoenix’ is a good sign, with a simple, floating tune, barely punctuated by the infrequent stab of electronics. It’s a perfect arrangement of her old direct, if not slightly limited, style of songwriting with this idea that any sound emerging from a box of electronics can be just as pure as a form of expression as a note plucked, bowed or blown.
These might be personal songs during a fiercely confessional performance, but we’re invited to feel them alongside her, to see our own reflections in every line and every note. If Emmy the Great can harness this into the more diverse array of sonic expressions she’s hinted at tonight, then album number three can’t come soon enough.