Classical violin, analog synthesisers, and hip-hop – just a selection of tools found in the extensive sonic skillset of Emily Wells.
The Texan truly expresses her varied palette of musical influences with ‘Mama’, her ten-track release from 2012, recently reinvigorated with an accompanying acoustic reimagining of the entire album.
It is indeed difficult to classify the album’s genre or compare it to a similar release, but non-urban-music fans need not reel back with disdain at the thought of such an outlandish marbling of genres and instrumentation – the combination is surprisingly effective and pleasant to the ear. And anyway, the influences are only subtle toppings forming part of a lovely musical cake, if you will – Wells has done well in keeping her music sounding authentic and unique. Specifically, you can expect gritty, lo-fi drum loops chopping over the top of more legato orchestral elements, with the inclusion of the odd (often literally) sample here-and-there creating a dense, but not cluttered, soundscape. Mama’s sound in general is one of deep texture, but isn’t afraid to bear all. Wells’ soprano vocals contrast nicely with an almost-constant low-frequency element across tracks, which will have your desk/car doors shaking if cranked a bit.
Speaking of which, she certainly has an idiosyncratic vocal characteristic – opener ‘Piece Of It’ is reminiscent of Bon Iver with its use of double-tracking and undisputable feeling of intimacy (listen with headphones for the utmost spine-tingling effect). This closeness is one of the album’s main themes – there are no secrets here and there’s a lot of space in the mixes, despite the extensive layering of instrumentation.
Mama starts off promising and is attention-grabbing in its first half; who would have thought such a haunting opening track could be followed a few minutes later by ‘Mama’s Gonna Give You Love’, a number which could have easily included some element of rap and maintained the album’s overall integrity? But some listeners are likely to find our Emily’s ‘feline’ vocals and very-southern-American accent a little grating after 25 minutes or so, and lose interest.
All is not lost though. Flip sides to the aforementioned acoustic reimagining, and the situation is likely to be reversed. Delicacy turns to fragility, but not weakness – the musical message is, if anything, even more powerful across these ten tracks which feature only Wells and her guitar. Added track ‘Los Angeles’ is utterly dreamy, laden with reverb, light and gentle – testament to Wells’ eclectic musical talent, surely.
The deluxe release of ‘Mama’ is full of soul, character and fresh timbres to get your ears around. Music “connoisseurs” (those who don’t oft-dabble in the realms of pop) are usually eager to hear something different, even if it’s an amalgamation of genres you wouldn’t think to compare or try and work with simultaneously; Emily Wells does just that and to good effect. Maybe it’s just as well though that us Brits can get hold of the acoustic side inclusively; it’s worth it to preserve the album’s longevity in your music library.
Grab the Deluxe Edition on iTunes.
Listen to a track by Emily here: