Pillowfight – [Album]

Monday, 29 April 2013

I'm not much of a hip hop-head. Maybe I haven't given it enough of a shot, but most of it just doesn't connect with me. I'm not going to try to debate or explain that here, I just bring it up to point out that, while the name Dan the Automator does ring a bell, it doesn't mean a lot to me. In my mind, he's just another producer.

On the other hand, I've been following Emily Wells since I first saw her, with a violin and dreadlocks, backing up poets at Rachel Kann's spoken word showcase Co-lab:oration some ten years ago.

So, while everyone else seems to be reviewing Pillowfight as Dan the Automator's new disc with a wholly mixed reception, to me it is the new Emily Wells, and I love it. The Automator's lush production provides the perfect setting for her sultry, sensual vocals.

I have seen Wells construct elaborate symphonies with just a violin and sampler, and I have seen her deconstruct Notorious B.I.G.'s '"Juicy." I watched her move from just violin to a much more expansive sound over the years; adding the sampler, vocals, keyboard. But as she has focused more on her vocals, the limits of her solo performances have become more apparent. There's nothing wrong with them exactly, there just something seems to be missing from them. I didn't really realize what was missing until I heard this CD, which fills those gaps marvelously.

The rich, dense production here provides a pillow (sorry for the pun) for her vocals to rest on. Songs like '"Rain" and '"Lonely City" are lush gems. At the same time, it punches up her funky playfulness on jams like '"Get Your Shit Together" and '"Get Down." It also brings out her sensual side; I've never heard her sound as sexy as she does on '"Darlin' Darlin'" and '"I Work Hard."

The thickness of the production does make it hard to tell how much Wells contributed to this album beyond her vocals. I kept struggling to hear her violin, which she can do extraordinary things with. It finally shows up on the last cut, '"Sleeping Dogs" (if it's there earlier, I didn't hear it). A minor quibble, considering how much I like this album, but I did miss it.

I am very glad to see this next step in Ms. Wells' career. And glad to hear her on the radio, at least here in L.A. Things are clearly starting to get exciting for Emily Wells; I can't wait to see what she does next.



Pillowfight's self-titled debut is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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