• David Bentley

Non-Nordic Sunday: Emmy the Great - A Window / O’Keeffe (single from forthcoming album ‘April’)


Emmy the Great (Emma-Lee Moss), will release her fourth album ‘April /月音’the Chinese script signifying she has origins in Hong Kong) on October 9th. She announced her arrival in the same year – 2009 – as the last artist I covered in this section, Polly Scattergood, as an anti-folk singer-songwriter notable for her smart lyrics (she’s also a writer).


Having mellowed a little (although still capable of caustic lyrics, especially on second album ‘Virtue’, a break-up one after her atheist boyfriend found Jesus overnight and left her to be a missionary), she’salso drifted more into electronic pop recently and has often been compared with Lana Del Rey.


She took a break recently after having her first child (having recorded ‘We almost had a baby’ on her debut album, ‘First Love’). Incidentally, the title track to that album remains one of my favourite songs of all time; the lyrics are sublime. “You said, I have a room, top of the stairs, I have a room with a view/ I know we all have a cross that we bear and I’d like to give it to you/ and I won’t forget how the sky was set, you said I have a place to go back to/ La-la-la I will have you yet, I will carry you there if I have to…” as she recounted the story of her first date from beginning to orgasmic ending.


She’s also taken some time out to live on both the east and west coasts of the USA and in her native Hong Kong in recent years as well as writing songs for theatrical adaptations of novels and original songs for the soundtrack for Sony Pictures' Austenland, about the life of Jane Austen. Oh, and she’s a music critic as well.


She’s already released a couple of singles from the album. This third one, ’A Window/ O’Keeffe’ was written about her last summer living in Brooklyn, New York City. She had just returned from China after a first-ever visit. (Which instantly makes me think of our favourite Siv Jakobsen, whose ‘Berry & Whythe’ was set on those same Brooklyn streets as she prepared to quit New York after a failed relationship).


Emmy says, “The world was shifting, and maybe we didn’t always like where it was going, but it was summer now, and we were together. When I finished the song in Hong Kong that October, the colours of a (Georgia) O’Keeffe exhibit (an American artist known as ‘the mother of American modernism’)I’d been to see at the Brooklyn museum had seeped into my memories of that time. In many ways, this song is about colour, though it’s also about the friendship between women, something I leaned on as I moved into the next phase of my life.”


What is noticeable both on this track and the two which preceded it, ‘Mary’ and (to a lesser degree) Dandelions/Liminal’ is a shift back and away from her more electric sound on previous album ‘Second Love’ and the EP which preceded that, ‘S’, which brought her the comparisons with Lana del Rey, towards the more stripped-back acoustic sound of the first two albums. It’s even possible to pick out some of her favourite riffs and that distinctive rhyming meter she uses that date right back to even before ‘First Love’.


What has never changed, throughout her career, and endearingly, is her slightly weak voice. She once famously said that she thought she sounded like Roger Moore giving a lecture on his own importance until she heard herself for the first time and realised it was more like a baby puking.


Neither has her lyrical ability. “I said Georgia O’Keefe and you showed me your teeth all white … art is the way that we frame what we see / But these days I crave … anonymity.” Magic.

Emmy the Great’s ‘April /月音’ will be released by Bella Union on October 9th on digital, CD and vinyl formats and there is a limited special edition vinyl issue which is available to pre-order now.


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