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A Slyly Beautiful Triumph – Emmy the Great’s “Second Love”

Emmy the Great
Second Love
Bella Union

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Sumptuous, with a bruised, undying romanticism, the spry, spiritual, primarily electronica-based music Emmy the Great makes has few rivals in the way it’s confluent with our times. Evincing a sound where a dizzying, gilted (and indeed gifted) melodicism is stitched in with both a smattering of pan-cultural influence (check the Afrobeat insistence of “Constantly”‘s funky stutter of guitar) and an attendant urban twitchiness, her work here on third album Second Love hits a perfectly besotting, zeitgeist-matching pitch. It seems a safe bet to say that world-at-its-fingertips millennial doubt has seldom been spoken with such confidence.

Beautifully produced (by Dave McCracken), rich with aching subtleties (when it’s not rushing over you with outright waves of straight-up loveliness), this is music that you’d hope was playing during those flying dreams you keep having, even as, due the album’s knack for concise pop arrangements, the tracks themselves carry a groundedness that never lets us stray or float away.

Once involved with the likes of Lightspeed Champion and Noah the Whale, Emmy (neé Emma-Lee Moss) glides here with seamless facility from gleaming melancholi-pop – the spectral “Swimming Pool,” which shimmers like the last day of summer, the wooden tap of claves never before sounding as poignant – to a sort of light-as-mist electro-soul that conveys as well as anything we’ll hear this year the sweet painful ecstasy of yearning (“Algorithm”) to a dark tribal updated take on the legacy of Young Marble Giants called “Hyperlink” that ultimately exudes a sense of warmth and comforting hope like the great cozy hug of a digital wool sweater and that rather single-handedly exemplifies Emmy the Great’s innate (and close to eerie) ability to tap via song and sound into not only her generation’s nerve-jangling brand of modern consciousness but, indeed, that of our culture at large. You can virtually hear the glowing of a screen amid “Hyperlink”‘s otherwise soulfully swooning heartbeat rhythm, its warm night (electronic) cricket chirps, the aspirational conclusion, sweetly reached and without pretense (“love is the answer“). Fortunately, this track, like most of this luminous record, is endowed with a lilting, lasting melody that feels nothing but organically derived.

GLASTONBURY, UNITED KINGDOM - JUNE 24: Emmy The Great performs on the Oxlyers in West stage during the second day of Glastonbury Festival 2011 at Worthy Farm on June 24, 2011 in Glastonbury, United Kingdom. (Photo by Gary Wolstenholme/Redferns)

(Photo by Gary Wolstenholme)

“Social Halo,” also bedizened with entrancing effects and mining similar territory, sports a deeper and more dynamic sonic palette – a kind of thundering watery bass thrum, brittle chimes of deftly layered guitar – but at its center is Ms Moss’s glass-pure voice, both buoyant and vulnerable, tracing an eternally whistleable vocal line; “Shadowlands” floats a deliberate, winsomely lonely dream-pop hook atop an anxious brushed cymbal doing double subtle double time (thereby finding another way to bed together the calm with the nervous), while “Less Than Three” rather inverts the ‘throw caution to the wind’ chestnut that infects nearly all today’s love-drenched chart music, chastising whoever the other is here for going too slow, an impatience echoed in the track’s ebullient restraint.

While falling prey in places to its own coy tastefulness – “Dance With Me” flirts a little too closely with cheese, frankly, and “Phoenixes,” clever and confessional though it is, points at least slightly to the dangers of diaristic songwriting but mostly just needs more heft to hang its nostalgia on – Second Love otherwise provides a timely soundtrack that’s a succor and a gentle challenge to our collective Tumblr’ed, Snapchatted psyche. It’s also, overall, a slyly beautiful triumph.