Occasionally, since starting Love is Pop a year and a half ago, I will go into a panic mode when my favorite artists are releasing new albums because, one, I feel compelled to review them and, two, I dread the idea of possibly having to give one of my favorites a bad review. I experienced a bit of this anxiety during the past couple of weeks, as the April 8th release of Emm Gryner’s new album, Torrential, grew nearer and nearer. It was silly, as I’d been a fan of Emm’s since the late ’90’s and she’d never disappointed me, but then I’m bipolar and freely admit that some of my moods can be entirely silly. After all, if Emm’s first 11 or so albums and EPs never disappointed me, what were the chances that Torrential would?
I suppose some of my pre-Torrential panic stemmed from the fact that Emm’s last album, Northern Gospel, had become my favorite of her records shortly after her release and had, in fact, remained my favorite ever since. As a result, it elevated my opinion of her even higher, putting her on a level where she couldn’t possibly compete with herself. So, perhaps my worrying wasn’t entirely a bipolar episode but based in dash of logic. Either way, I was downright anxious when I bought the album first thing yesterday morning. (I didn’t seek out a free promo download because that would have been confronting my anxiety headfirst; by waiting until its release to hear it, I bought myself some time.) But my anxiety was washed away entirely by the time the first track, “Pioneer,” the lead single, had ended. (Due to my anxiety, I had not listened to the single prior to the first time I listened to the album yesterday morning.)
One of the things I’ve always liked about Emm’s music is that she isn’t afraid to confront things and she often does so with biting or even sarcastic lyrics, which is certainly the case with “Pioneer,” a folk-ish number that finds her vowing to boycott modern technology, to do what most of us often dream of these days and cut herself off from the world. “I’m done staring at this screen / Gonna chuck it the river where you can’t find me,” she sings, spitting just enough venom to drive her point home. “I’m gonna be a pioneer / Gonna get myself where you can’t interfere,” goes the wholly infectious chorus. (For the record, Emm delved into folk music prior to Mumford’s rise to fame when she formed the folk trio Trent Severn with friends, releasing a self-titled album in 2012.)
Emm continues to let her folk side shine on Torrential’s second track, “Excess Baggage.” “I can see it in your eyes / You just might meet a guy / But you’ll get to where you’re going in good time,” she sings as the song winds down. Whether she’s singing to other women or to a younger version of herself is unknown, but if I were to guess I would say it’s about women needing to be more independent in a general sense, to not be so concerned with inhabiting someone’s arm. If I’ve understood her correctly, this has often been a theme with her music.
The catchiest song on the album has got to be “Purge,” which has a lovely, propulsive beat. “Sometimes you gotta clean house and decide who you’re gonna keep,” goes the bridge. “Purge / Get real / Out with the old,” she sings during the addictive chorus. “Purge / Get real / Out with the bullshit.” If you haven’t fallen in love with the organic tone and country-style storytelling of the album by now then there’s no hope for you. Perhaps you would prefer some crap written by Dr. Luke?
I’m going to unveil a secret now: most of my favorite Emm Gryner songs are her ballads. You’d swear she has a secret to spinning them more effectively than her peers. She sounds so sweet and emotive that you can’t help but be swept away by the romance of them all. And, fortunately, Torrential has a handful of these touching gems. The first is the album’s fifth track, “Sundown On Us,” which begins with Emm feeling lonely on her birthday. “Big day / Feeling small / Is this the end of perfect love,” begins the dreamy but melancholic chorus. “Yes it’s sundown on us / Sundown on everything there was,” she sings later as she continues whipping up the perfect recipe to break your heart with. I have a hard time not getting teary-eyed when I listen to this number.
The next ballad is the title track, “Torrential,” which more than lives up to its name. If you’ve ever suffered from terrible depression — I’m talking about the clinical variety — then you should relate to this tune. It starts off on a sad note — and on the quieter side — but gradually grows increasingly depressing and more and more boisterous, eventually adding some electro-rattling to shake your soul as it hits epic territory. It’s so grave that you’d swear she’s begging for her life as she sings, “You’re all up in my mind tonight / Take away the pain / You’re all up in my mind tonight / Fix this torrential rain.” I know I’ll be clinging to this one the next time I find myself in a depressive state for sure.
There are two more ballads on the album and they’re both noteworthy. First comes “Mammoth Ache,” which blends acoustic guitars with tender electro-loop-style percussion. The acoustic side dominates the track, but I find the loop to be especially intoxicating. It reminds me of Jon Bon Jovi’s solo album, Destination Anywhere, which blended loops and electro-elements with brilliant acoustics and some of his strongest lyrics to date. Speaking of lyrics, this one finds Emm trying to inspire others even as she sings, “This mammoth ache’s got a hold on me.” It’s a sad song, to be sure, but it’s not as gut-wrenching as the title track. Not that very many songs on the planet are. Except, perhaps, for the album’s final ballad — and final song — a gorgeous piano ballad called “End of Me.” “Your love is the end of me / The end of the line,” she sings, the lyrics packing a huge emotional wallop. “She’ll never be the north star / She’ll never be your god / She’ll never know you deep as I,” she sings, truly sounding like all hope is lost. As with “Torrential,” the song adds lots of additional instrumentation as it progresses, proving to be just as epic. It’s a testament to how very real and honest Emm is with her songwriting that she should end the album with such a depressing song where it would seem that all hope has been lost. But for her ever-growing fanbase, there’s always hope so long as there’s always going to be another album.