It took me a long time to appreciate First Love. Emmy the Great’s demo collection contains a wealth of lo-fi creativity, so when her debut unabashedly revealed a polished side to her talents, I recoiled in horror. Let down by a large helping of new material, I lazily dismissed the entire affair as a folly into something I couldn’t be a part of. I barely gave it a chance; if there was no ‘Atoms’, there was no hope. I foolishly resigned myself to a lifetime of ‘My Guitar’ and sulked back to my bedroom.
Two years past and in that time I mellowed to First Love’s whims. Snippets of ‘The City’ were caught in cars; ‘We Almost Had a Baby’ whistled forlornly in the background. Like an abstract plunder into addiction, one morning I woke up to the chiming melody of ‘M.I.A.’ and I crept towards my CD collection in search of a crudely coloured pink spine. There began my obsession with the album. I was not so much star struck as I was infected with a life affirming yet dismally slow occupation.
So you can understand that I approach her sophomore album Virtue with a degree of resignation. On the one hand I understand, enjoy and trust Emmy the Great more than ever before. Time has spun a security blanket out of her material and I can’t imagine a life without any single song. But my other hand is clenched into a fist, raised and ready to bat away anything that might threaten my current sentiment. I cannot let my need for familiarity overcome my love for Emmy the Great. The woman’s reliably comforting, but she’s not a bloody pillow.
Opener ‘Dinosaur Sex’ beckons to her existing fan base like a ghoul to the slaughter house. Drenched with the whine of a slow guitar and an atmospheric radar blip, it’s a far cry from the billowing road of ‘Absentee’. The song exhibits the sound of a musician all grown up, in stark contrast to its quirky title, which suggests Emmy’s barely changed at all. What comes after – ‘Century of Sleep (A Woman, A Woman)’ and ‘Iris’ – confirms this is the work of a mature, established artist who hasn’t lost sight of her humour.
In a recent interview right hand man and Younghusband member Euan Hinshelwood said, “If First Love was pregnant, this one’s having a baby.” A closer metaphor couldn’t have been had: from the midnight slumber of ‘Exit Night’ to the rumbling heart of ‘North’, Virtue is Emmy’s existential re-launch. She’s still capable of writing the most beautiful and accomplished songs, but her work has been blackened by the experiences she’s had along the way. It’s characteristically charming, but the poignant naivety of First Love has been replaced by emotional turmoil and a frightening retrospective.
The lack of recognition on Virtue isn’t a problem; the accessibility of tracks like ‘Creation’ and ‘Paper Forest’ more than make up for it. The shock has also been buffered by lead track ‘Century of Sleep (A Woman, A Woman)’; which was released through RCRDLBL earlier on in the year, and ‘Sylvia’; whose frantic drum and bass advance is enthralling. Both tracks reference British literary figures (Virginnia Woolf’s Orlando and Plath respectively), satisfying the wants of every library conspirator out there. Not bad for two songs that also blow the crackers out of cool.
Virtue makes such a colossal first impression it’s hard to imagine how I’ll feel about it in a year’s time. Whatever the case I’m not exaggerating; my like of this album won’t decrease. It might explode. I might explode. In a year’s time, if you find me wielding this release as a vaccination to all the “scene affirming” gubbins out there, don’t say I didn’t warn you. Acoustic music doesn’t stand a chance. Everyone else might as well stop trying now.
Release date: 13th June 2011