It’s been a few years since Emmy The Great — born Emma-Lee Moss — released her last album, Virtue in 2011, but you can hardly blame her when she’s so busy doing things like mentoring for the Joe Strummer Foundation for New Music (Strummerville), writing for The Guardian and Noisey, and re-enacting the Buffy The Vampire Slayer musical episode (Once More With Feeling) with pal Kate Nash. She’s also collaborated with more than a few artists, the biggest being her work with Dev Hynes and Fatboy Slim on the Brighton Port Authority project. Additionally, she performed with Ash on their A-Z tour, collaborated on dan le sac’s “Memorial” track from his album Space Between the Worlds, etc.
S is titled such because it features four songs which all have titles beginning with the letter S. The first of these tracks was last November’s single “Swimming Pool.” It’s an especially trippy number featuring Tom Fleming of Wild Beasts, who sings along with Emmy on a significant portion of the song. “Love is something I always thought I could never go inside,” they sing, their vocals very calm and cool. To that end, the track is a love song, but it’s very one-sided as the object of her affection is a rich kid who’s too busy swimming in his pool to so much as notice her. The fact that she seems almost ambivalent about this calls to mind the writing of Bret Easton Ellis. The kid in the pool could have been one of Patrick Bateman’s victims in American Psycho. Or a film crew snob from Glamorama. But, mostly, it’s Emmy herself who comes across like an Ellis character, sounding somewhat emotionless even if it is a love song. It’s a unique perspective that makes the song captivating.
There’s more emotion on “Social Halo,” which features a healthy dose of electric and acoustic guitars when Emmy is singing and lush, electronic sounds when it opens and again during those portions of the song where she isn’t singing. Although she sounds happy here, the lyrics would seem to indicate otherwise. “You’re just so cold / The opposite of volcano,” she sings to somebody who’s not giving her the response she desires. The chorus goes, “I’m starting to lose my social halo,” which one assumes is a bad thing, since having a social halo would likely mean you’re gifted when it comes to socializing. One suspects that this song is about one particular person ignoring her, prompting her to feel like she’s losing it. If so, you might draw the conclusion that she’s singing about the same elusive person she sings about during “Swimming Pool.” Or perhaps this writer’s mind is simply over-analyzing. Then again, Emmy herself has stated that the songs on S were written during an itinerant period in her life and that this record is her trying to engage the outside world, as opposed to being a reflection of her internal monologue like her previous work.
“Solar Panels” is the liveliest song on hand, a sweet, feel good, indie, pop rock song. On one hand, the song references people making heat from solar panels, but on the other hand she seems to be singing to a lover who “dreams of California.” Perhaps she’s criticizing him, telling him he’s idealizing California, pointing out that it’s not all solar panels, which could be something he’s romanticizing about. One thing is for certain: it’s quite catchy, perhaps even Emmy’s most infectious song to date. You’ll probably want to listen to it on repeat.
The EP closes with the synthy, exquisite “Somerset (I Can’t Get Over).” “I guess this is coming late in the day / But please don’t get over me,” she sings to her boyfriend who’s found someone new. She ultimately sets him free, but she doesn’t want him to ever get over her, a feeling anyone who’s been left by a significant other can relate to. The beats here are entirely trip-hop, burbling beneath her heart-broken vocals and flourishes of vibrant guitar. Her inner romantic really shines through here, her voice sounding prettier than ever, even if melancholic, making the listener want to reach out and give her a hug.
The only thing “wrong” with S is that it isn’t longer. Listening to these four gems, it’s impossible not to wish this was a full-length album. Then again, how many full-length albums have four songs as perfect as these?