NEW YORK-based choral ambient artist Emma Houton has announced she’s to release her debut album, The Bath, on Trapped Animal Records, the home of psych-folkster Jeremy Tuplin and others, in May; and you can see the video for the first single from that immersive work, “Watershed”, here today.
Born to an Irish father and raised in Methodism, Emma’s debut long player sees her investigate her experiences of religion and also her love of Irish folklore, achieving a high, modern compositional catharsis.
The Bath, the album, evolved from a hundred-page score written for eight voices to perform live as part of her senior thesis recital. The coronavirus scotched such plans; so Emma decided to take those eight vocal roles on herself using a loop pedal in the manner of Julianna Barwick.
“Watershed”, The Bath; yes, there is a watery motif flowing throughout this record, as Emma explores things such as baptism, purification and drowning.
Many of the lyrics are taken from Emma’s favourite folk songs and murder ballads. She’d sing a line from these songs and then craft a soundscape around them that she felt fitting to its theme and tradition; then layered in her own narrative above.
Emma says: “The Bath is an exploration of the voice: I play with how voices can blend and separate, and dive into the unique ways in which the human voice interacts with audio effects.
“The lyrical themes of drowning, baptism and purification are reflected in the album’s sonics through enveloping delays, cavernous reverb, and a general sense of being completely immersed in sound.”
You’ll find “The Watershed” hauntingly choral, Emma finding an off-kilter space with a religious and classical song form and moving it forward with a lead vocal of very personal, pure expression; visually, domestic and church Super 8 footage cuts up, pixellates and fractures to a redoubling, eerie effect.
Elsewhere on The Bath, the centrepiece is the ten-minute “Bow and Balance”: an arrangement of a traditional murder ballad, “The Twa Sisters”, which tells of two sisters in love with the same man. When he proposes to the younger, her older sibling pushes her into the sea. A bystander nearly saves her, but the elder sister gives him gold in exchange for pushing her back into the sea. The younger sister drowns; the elder is hanged. The perils of love … .
Elsewhere the 19th-century Sacred Harp hymn “Idumea” is given the massed a capella treatment; a song that is certainly having its moment in the leftfield sun, as Bill MacKay and Nathan Bowles are also interpreting it for duelling banjo and guitar instrumental on their forthcoming Drag City album, Keys.
Emma Houton’s The Bath will be released by Trapped Animal Records on May 21st.