Friday, 01 April 2016


CD by Emily Wells (Thesis + Instinct Records)

Reviewed by G. Murray Thomas

If you are not familiar with Emily Wells, you should be. Emily Wells plays violin, and sings. She also plays keyboards and percussion. Then, through sampling and processing, she blends those elements into gorgeous music. Her new CD, Promise, is a masterpiece of such creation.

In 2008 Wells released a CD titled Symphonies, much of it created with violin and sampler. Despite its title, that CD was more a collection of catchy songs than anything truly symphonic. I would be tempted to call its pieces pop songs, except pop radio never plays anything that interesting.

Promise, on the other hand, is a true symphony, despite being presented as a collection of individual songs. Each song is a movement; together they form a coherent whole. A solid theme runs through the album, both lyrically and musically. In fact, the music and the lyrics work together beautifully to explore that theme, and make it resonate.

That theme is longing. Longing for a lover, for a home, for a god. The exact object of the longing is often left vague, so that the emotion is primary. In “Falling On It” Wells sings, “I was in danger. I was in need.” These sentiments rise up throughout the CD: “We were, always yellin, at the night. It would never come/ And wanting, was it desire? you and I, we never won” – “Los Angeles.” “We don’t know what’s best for us/ We don’t know what’s next for us but I wanna find out/ We don’t know the half of it, but I wanna find out” – “Come To Me.” “I don’t wanna lose ever again. I don’t wanna lose, nobody” – “The Antidote.” “Lord I want the same thing. Always want the same thing/ I wanna stay alive” – “Richard.”

But even more than the lyrics, the longing comes through in Wells’ voice. Sometimes she is a blues singer, sometimes an opera star; sometimes she approaches gospel (“Come to me when you know that you’re ready…” – “Come to Me”), and other times she is singing a lullaby (“We’re riding home, riding home in the evening/ And we’re falling asleep/ Don’t I have a pretty little darlin?/ Don’t I have it made?” – “Take It Easy”). But mostly she is just soulful, pouring her emotions into the songs. The result is you truly feel her desire.

The instrumental music backs this up. Stylistically, Wells almost invents her own genre here, a mixture of classical and ambient, with elements of folk, blues, and progressive pop. The violin is the key instrument, whether strummed, or bowed, or plucked, played straight or processed into an atmospheric hum. The result is far from mechanical, it is emotional, evocative. It more than expresses the theme; through the music, the listener experiences the feelings.

Promise is a challenging album. Not because it is difficult to listen to – quite the opposite. It is very easy on the ears, almost too easy, for it requires close attention to fully appreciate. On a casual listen, the various musical pieces Wells has assembled blend into a smooth background. In a way it is similar to the Phil Spector “Wall of Sound” effect, how she blends separate elements into a single, solid sound. The difference is that, on closer listen, all the individual pieces – lines of violin, plucked strings, sparse percussion – can be discerned (I recommend headphones). So perhaps a “curtain of sound” would be a more apt description; from a distance it sounds whole, but up close one can see through it, can see the details. This album demands full immersion.

On Promise, Emily Wells brings her many talents to full fruition. This album is a masterpiece. I hope it brings her the attention she deserves.

Promise is available from http://emilywellsmusic.com/


Emily Wells with a violin and a sampler.


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