Nehedar is what NYC-based singer/songwriter Emilia Cataldo goes by, much the way Natasha Khan calls herself Bat For Lashes or Sarah Assbring calls herself El Perro Del Mar. Let’s face it — it’s trendy for female solo artists to give themselves a cool name these days. But Emilia didn’t just start calling herself Nehedar because it sounds cool. Nehedar actually means wondrous in Hebrew and it turns out Emilia is a student of Jewish Mysticism. Which might have you thinking that her latest album, This Heart, is a bunch of inaccessible new age meditational music. But that would be mistaken. It’s just about everything but new age with songs ranging from artsy pop to indie rock to “anti-folk” to electronica. At times it feels more like a greatest hits collection than a cohesive album because it changes genre and sounds so often, but I’ll take an eclectic album over one where every song sounds the same any day.
Aside from Emilia’s warm and slightly offbeat voice — she calls to mind Regina Spektor and Liz Phair — the commonality between the songs on This Heart would seem to be that most of them tell stories, something else she has in common with Spektor, though Emilia’s lyrics tend to run darker. To that end, she calls to mind Aimee Man’s knack for making the gloomy sound beautiful and Laura Marling’s ability to hide brutally honest remarks within exceptional hooks.
“The weight of your bones / and all the armor that you own / you’re afraid to let go and feel anything,” she sings during the chorus of the catchy pop rock number “Weight of Your Bones,” which would seem to be about someone who’s afraid to let go and truly lose themselves in the moment.
I was most impressed by Emilia’s songs that are built around electronic beats and loops, but I’m a big fan of electronica so that shouldn’t surprise anybody. That said, electro sounds just feel so natural if not entirely perfect around her vocals. My favorite track on the album is “What’s Becoming,” which seems to be about someone living out a relationship they know is bad for them. It blends tender, live bass with fluttery electro-beats and pitter patter. “They say take pills / pay someone to talk it out / I just need some place to let it go,” she sings, perhaps considering friends who’d advise her to stay in the relationship and seek out coping mechanisms instead.
One of This Heart’s strongest tracks is “On Killing,” which was inspired by the thoughts and experiences of a U.S. soldier returning from Afghanistan. Musically, the song blends militant-style drums with haunting saxophone. “It’s no one’s fault, we all turn to God / and we wash away to the see,” she sings, her voice haunting as she relates the soldier’s experiences in first person. (Emilia often puts herself in other’s shoes in her songs, which are mostly written in first person.)
Another highlight is the opening track, “Bells of the City,” an eerie and ambient song that calls to mind some of Moby’s darker material. “Get in over your head / makes you wish you were dead / but there’s so many things left to do,” she sings, weighing the pros and cons of life in a big city. Chances are Emilia will stick around New York City for the foreseeable future, but one gets the feeling she could find interesting stories to tell anywhere.