The first time Emily Wells name was brought to my attention was in the fall of 2010. I had just written a review of a show up in DeKalb put on by Passion Pit. They were not very good on this particular night, but the openers were great. Black Joe Lewis and The Honeybears really put on a great show. But before they took the stage, there was a woman standing in front of a couple of turntables. Her name is K Flay, and I had some nice things to say about her set. My friend Nathan read the review and recommended that I check out Wells’ music, as there are some similarities. He was right on, as usual.
The first thing I checked out was a video of Wells doing a in-studio performance of “In The Barrel Of A Gun.” If you haven’t seen it, check it out. It’s pretty impressive just to watch her create the soundscape with her violin and vocal loops. It’s also a pretty good song. It took me a while to find a torrent (don’t tell!) of her unofficial debut Symphonies, but once I did I really enjoyed it. There’s a lot of stuff going on in her music, and she plays all the instruments and arranges and writes all the songs. Her music doesn’t belong to any one genre, and I think fans of almost any kind of music might find something they like.
On her new record, Mama, she shows even more versatility while delivering ten solid tracks that don’t sound like anything else you’ll hear. I like the step away from the more hip-hop influenced first record into a more melodic sound. There are still some raps and more beats than you can shake a stick at, but it’s not as much in the forefront as it was before. The songs are allowed to stand up on their own and they’re stronger for it. The songwriting makes a drastic improvement on the new record, which spends more time creating an atmosphere than playing with the novelty of the way the music is being made.
My favorite song is called “Passenger.” It’s already received some good buzz ahead of the albums release last week. It’s a perfectly constructed song, with hints of Fiona Apple and St. Vincent layered within. On this one, the vocals really stand out, and the phrasing of the lyrics sounds great.
Pour it down my throat,
I need it just to cope
Hey kitty kitty, say it ain’t so
I’m driving on tomorrow, losing all my hope
Bottom of the well and I just lost the rope
I had a feeling this might not end so hot
So tell me doctor, you know how to make it stop?
Give me all your medicine, and give me all your skill
Your bad side manners, just to kill my ills!
On the next track, “Mama’s Gonna Give You Love,” the hip-hop element pops out in the first verse, but that’s not the part that interests me. There’s a segment in the chorus where Wells is basically just mumbling incoherently, and it works. The point being that a lot of time it doesn’t matter what a singer sings so much as how they sing it. I’d much rather hear someone sing gibberish than some asinine lyric that doesn’t fit the song at all.
Maybe the most impressive thing about Mama is that most of these songs have been around for a few years already. Wells has been playing and recording since 2005, and this is only the second album she’s put together (the first, officially). If you take a quick look at YouTube, you can find almost all of these songs being performed as early as 2009. And yet, on the record they come off fresh. I think that’s a testament to the unique style of music that she plays, as well as the quality.
Not everyone is going to love Emily Wells’ music. She takes a lot of risks, and for some the payoff won’t be there. I find everything that I’ve heard from her to be pretty interesting. She’s a great musician who somehow manages to pull of playing ten different instruments in the studio and live, seemingly at the same time. Mama is definitely worth checking out if you want to take a chance on something new. The album is available now, so head over to your local record store and pick up a copy. Or iTunes.