Emmy The Great: April / 月音 (Bella Union)

Excellent fourth album from the storied singer is a love letter to Hong Kong

Released Oct 9th, 2020 via Bella Union / By Clementine Lloyd
Emmy The Great: April / 月音 (Bella Union) The latest LP from Emmy the Great is certainly a welcome return from someone you may well have ‘grown up’ with. Her style has always been one of wild flights with a core rooted in truths of the heart. But in this record, something is shifting. It feels transitory, dripping in nostalgia and glory for days gone by, and days yet to come.

You can certainly tell she has taken some time out from this incarnation to write for theatre. It is heard in the theatrics in The Great Change, though it doesn’t feel pretentious. It feels full, large enough to fill grand auditoriums. And Emmy is still managing to bring her trademark youth and curiosity to her mantle after all this time later. There is a delicious darkness within the bright spirit of her work. A darkness offset by sweet dulcet tones, dripping through tracks like Mary.

Opening with Mid-Autumn/月音 , you can hear her speaking Cantonese in the trademark soft lilting manner. It proves soporific, calming and gentle. It frames a palate-cleanse, washing everything away. Centering you for what you are about to embark upon: a drifting adventure on clouds of memories and softly strung tunes. Yet the whole journey has purpose and meaning. It is like a dreamy tribute to the year that brought her to her natural resting place, and the decision to move to Hong Kong.

It is wonderful to have a collection of songs that help to unpick the mind of the talent that has given them life. And April / 月音 does just this. Tracks like Dandelions/Liminal are dripping with meaning. Some of it obvious—some buried in context. Lyrics “Are you looking for straight lines in these liminal days?/Come on lets be dandelions and scatter allover the place” soar over the bubbling arrangement. It has a freewheeling energy that begs us to live honestly and accept change. It feels like she is offering the chance to bend with what life throws, and not take any road with religious ferocity. To be blown with the wind—there is poetry in that.

Following on with The Great Change, and lyrics “There is more to life than New York City… I begin to think this journey would be simpler/If I wasn’t so literal”, there is a sense that this shift in her life has not come without its heartache. And perhaps that is what Dandelions/Liminal is speaking to.

There is the hint of a subtle electronic undercurrent to the fresh bubbling overtones of A Window/O’Keefe. It is imbued with hope and gentle glowing joy for simple things, bringing effervescent lightness to the overall tone. Choral moments wrap Emma’s voice in silk, cushioning her as she croons “There’s something watching over us”.

It is an interesting melding of the two cultures and locations that are such a part of her life. The light electronic folksiness of her New York creations entwining with the traditional musical elements of her birthplace.

Okinawa/Ubud has a revelatory atmosphere, enrolling the solitude of night. A simplistic sing-song of the heart. The sounds of glockenspiel chimes, speeding up and slowing down before "It goes slower and faster…if you sing to the mountain you’ll be clean as the rain/That’s too simple for me/But I’ll take it/I’ll take it”. Softly etched violin strings poke at your heart, willing the dam of emotion to break and spill its contents.

She speaks of having a moment in a Chinese temple, one that informed many of her actions following. You can hear remnants of this feeling in this track, and it is incredibly arresting. The quiet urgency and emanation of that feeling sweeps through you as the brushed cymbals see you out.

The whole record is a wonderful love letter. Both to the city that informed a generous period of life, and to the new home and the new path of motherhood that shifted her view. And with her final track, Heart Sutra, she creates a dreamy way forward. Up and out over this period, and into something new.

Art is the way that we frame what we see”, and this shift in her life has been framed wonderfully by this latest offering. Created in 2018, and brought into our hearts in 2020, amidst turbulence. And in many ways there are lessons to be learned from her experience. We just need to listen. 4/5