NE eMA – [Album]

Tuesday, 06 July 2010

Poets working in the rock n' roll idiom are a funny breed. Think about it – more often than not, poetry is an intensely personal art form; a form of expression so personal that if someone other than the author is able to truly understand it, it's because the author digressed enough to let someone else in and understand simply so he/she wouldn't be alone in the feelings that the words conjure. On the other side of the pop culture coin, rock n' roll is a populist medium by definition; understanding it is kiddie play because it is designed to appeal and strike a relative note in a massive group of people. Even with that assertion made though, it's still surprising to note how many poets (like Gord Downie, Ani DiFranco and Leonard Cohen, to name only a few) are capable of thriving in both the rock and pop idioms; the true poets are rare but, when a listener falls into their narrative realm, those listeners become fans for life. Those are the dice that NE eMA is rolling now on her sophomore album (first for Sony), Watching You Think, but what's fascinating about this album and this singer is that the album arrives tight, polished and ready to go, and the singer arrives confident and with no warm-up required; she just goes on Watching You Think and will have listeners running to catch up with her.

From the very beginning of “Outspoken” – a sort of sea chantey that has been envisioned with Ani DiFranco's sibilance, unique meter and articulated phrasing in mind – NE eMA presents herself as an intoxicating and exotic poetess ready to both invite listeners in and challenge them with ideological quandaries so complex, it could take a lifetime to unravel them. That might sound imposing,  but those that hear this record will still be able to walk away enlightened in the end, even if they were unable to crack the code.

With that stage set, NE eMA sets to developing a unique cast of characters which includes a couple called “Romeo and Juliet” who are as much the product of a vision of Tom Waits (“and he'll step outside of the shade/and say something like, 'You and me babe, how about it?'”) as they are of the classic imagery created by William Shakespeare, a series of tentative and/or temporary romantic associations (“Unwinding,” “Stay,” “Lost In L.A.”) and undying moments of crestfallen and faded artifice (“Escape”) that are all serenely beautiful, but are also artistically open and available enough for listeners to easily pick up and take home. Listeners will happily take them home too – whether to hang on the wall and admire or dissect to glean insight into the singer.

Thematically, the twelve songs that comprise Watching You Think all hold together on a consistently dry-eyed and lugubrious but resigned and satisfied tone (check “Unwinding” for a perfect example) that's comforting in its' own way, and compliments the singer's tales of difficult romance (both running to and running away from it) and less-than-ideal situations of which she can only make the best (“Stay”). No matter the case, NE eMA treats her torment like a learning experience, and the lessons she does learn each step of the way through Watching You Think are what push the record along as well as keep listeners engaged; even as the record draws to a close and listeners realize that almost nothing has been resolved in the end, the album feels like a fantastic excursion that does find the singer arrive, emotionally stronger in the end. That strength will be the thing that entices listeners to come back when another record appears; they'll want to see what new steps have been taken and what has transpired in the singer's ongoing story.



Watching You Think is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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