Emmy the Great (Emma-Lee Moss) released her fourth album on October 9th. ‘April /月音’ (the Chinese script, which translates as ‘Moon Sound’ on Google Translate but is given as ‘Mid-Autumn’ on the first track signifies her origins in Hong Kong). It was a bit of a rushed job, the fastest she’s ever recorded, ironically as she was about to take a year off on maternity leave having finally had that baby she almost had on her debut album back in 2009.
Having begun her musical journey as an anti-folk flaneur and raconteur, she’s mellowed a little (although still capable of caustic lyrics, especially on second album ‘Virtue’, a break-up one after her atheist boyfriend found Jesus overnight and left her to be a missionary), and she’s also drifted more into electronic pop recently and has often been compared latterly with Lana Del Rey.
She’s also travelled a bit, settling for lengthy spells on the west and east coasts of the U.S. and back in her native Hong Kong for a while in 2017, where this 10-track album was conceived, along with a side-trip – her first – into mainland China just as Hong Kong reached 20 years since the handover to ‘One Country, Two Systems’. I recall that, in 2014, she was manning the barricades in Hong Kong against the influence of Beijing during the Umbrella Protests and I’ve often wondered how that experience would translate into this album.
It does so quite passively on ‘Chang-E’, not the Singapore airport and no discernible connection to Wall-E either, rather the story of the wife of a tyrant who, in an act of defiance, drank the elixir of immortality to save China from his eternal reign then ascended to the moon to live there with the Jade Rabbit, its original inhabitant; a story she heard as a child. A lovely little ballad the like of which she’s been writing since first began but with a depth and complexity of arrangement that would come as a surprise to anyone who never listened beyond the guitar strumming basics of ‘First Love’.
She isn’t obsessed with China though. ’A Window/ O’Keeffe’ was written about her last summer living in Brooklyn, New York City. The colours of a (Georgia) O’Keeffe exhibit (an American artist known as ‘the mother of American modernism’) she’d been to see at the Brooklyn museum had seeped into her memories of that time and in many ways, the song is about colour, though it’s also about the friendship between women, she says.
What is noticeable both on this track and on others such as ‘Mary’ (the name of a fortune teller) and (to a lesser degree) the jaunty ‘Dandelions/Liminal’, which were both released as singles, also the lovely ‘Writer’, seemingly a diary of her day-to-day life in Hong Kong but which could also chronicle a fight with her own writer’s block, is a shift back and away from her more electric sound on previous album ‘Second Love’ and the EP which preceded that, ‘S’. Both of them brought her the comparisons with Lana Del Rey. Here she’s reversed direction towards the more stripped-back acoustic sound of the first two albums. It’s even possible to pick out some of her favourite riffs and that distinctive rhyming meter she uses that date right back to even before ‘First Love’. She’s also added percussion with a depth and power that has largely been missing previously.
Emmy the Great will play a live/streamed set of ‘April’ at The Barbican Centre in London on 17th October, followed by a panel discussion centred around mythology, the moon and the power of intuition.https://www.barbican.org.uk/whats-on/2020/event/emmy-the-great-live-from-the-barbican ,