Review: Emily Brown – Emily Frown

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Distracting production diminishes the quality of this otherwise beautiful collection of piano ballads.

 

December 5, 2016

Emily Brown is somewhat of a fixture in the Provo music scene. Possessing a beautiful, shaky Mezzo-soprano voice, she’s rightfully landed spots performing and touring with well-known Provo acts like Book on Tape Worm and The National Parks, and played a large role in the first Porch Lights album. Her latest release, a five-song EP entitled Emily Frown, dropped on October 25th, 2016. It is her third published work, after 2012’s Green Things and 2011’s This Goes With Us.

The album opens with the heartbreaking “The Most the Most the Most.” The entirety of the lyrics read beautifully on their own as a poem. The song is all about a heartbroken someone who foolishly and naively accepts flattery from an untrustworthy lover, only to end up depressed, unstable, and alone. All of us have been in this position to some degree or another. While I love all of the lyrics, the last four lines really hit home for me:

“At night when the house is dark and still 
And no one can hear me, I hope you will 
Cause that’s when it hits me– I’m conscious, still 
And also, you’re not mine.”

emilyfrownphotos-000046330031Beautiful. The words are set to an equally beautiful melody, sung sweetly and unassumingly by Brown. I was also particularly fond of how the piano was recorded on this track. It sounds like it was recorded on a real upright piano. You can hear the piano bench creaking and the pedals shifting. It’s gorgeous and so real. This song would be one of my favorite breakup ballads of all time, were it not for the frustrating distortion present throughout. It first appears around 0:49, but continues to grow in intensity throughout the piece until it is almost deafening. It definitely takes you out of the close, intimate setting that is so clearly established in the first 30 seconds. If the distortion is intentional, it doesn’t land that way. It feels like either the mics were too hot when the song was recorded, or levels weren’t right and tracks were clipping when the song was exported (assuming it was created on a Digital Audio Workstation.) The fact that this distortion is present at various points throughout the rest of the EP is indicative of either an intentional choice that I wholeheartedly disagree with, or an unfortunate production mistake.

The second track, “I Come To You,” has the feel of an early Lisa Hannigan track. I love the ebbs and flows present in the first half of this song. I also love the swirly, echoey sense of space. I would say this track is masterful. Unfortunately, once again, the production took me out of it. Around the 3:00 mark, a voice popped into my right ear, too faint to be intelligible but loud enough to catch my attention and give me a bit of a jump-scare. The voice continues speaking for a good 60 seconds. I thought I had an advertisement playing in one of my open browser tabs and honestly searched around to find where the sound was coming from. Sound clips are slowly added in layers throughout the rest of the song, and it’s just as distracting.

I know this was meant to be a thoughtful, nostalgic collection of sonic memories that sit under the rest of the song, but it didn’t come across that way. I’ve heard this sort of thing done in other albums and I’ve absolutely loved it. This just didn’t land right. I would have preferred if Brown had either given the clips more prominence, or featured them on their own before or after a track as she did on “Moab, Utah”, the first track on Green Things.

I can’t describe Brown’s voice on “Worst Weekend Ever.” It’s something like a female Brandon Flowers with a hint of Regina Spektor. I fell head over heels in love with it. It definitely fits the narrative style of the song. This is hands down my favorite track on the entire EP. It’s catchy, different, with a more uptempo piano part and Brown’s signature lyrical style. The production is exactly as it should be, and it makes me long for versions of the other tracks without the distortion and distractions.

0000241089_10“What Car” opens with some frantic piano. More Regina Spektor comparisons can be drawn on this track, and that’s not a bad thing by any means. It has some very cool (and haunting) harmonies towards the end. It’s not my favorite track on the album, since the preceding tracks trump it, but it features the best production on the entire album.

“The Most the End” is a cool reprise of “The Most The Most The Most” without the distortion. Again, this song features absolutely brilliant lyrics all about coming to terms with life’s trials and the misfortunes we endure. As with the first track, I’ll include a portion of the lyrics because they make for beautiful poetry:

“I bike to the park in pools of dark
Feel like a person tonight
I’m coming to terms with stings and burns
This is just part of my life
I’m not gonna change; I’ve stayed the same
So being alive just means living through pain
I live in this body; I answer that name.”

While I absolutely love this track as it is, I know that it would have been more impactful if the first track had landed properly. However, portions of the lyrics here are making me question my judgments about the album’s production. “I’m coming to terms with stings and burns – this is just part of my life. I’m not gonna change; I’ve stayed the same, so being alive just means living through pain.” Maybe this track is hinting at an overarching production choice: to intentionally make this a raw, uncomfortable listen. To not have it be polished. To not have it be perfect. To let the listener live through pain, so to speak. To experience what it means to be alive, to come to terms with the stings and burns and find the beauty underneath. I think there’s something wonderful about that interpretation. I’d like to think that’s the point. Given Brown’s insight and caliber as a musician, and the high quality of her preceding albums, I could see that being a thing. If that’s the case, props to Emily and the team that worked on the album for creating a work of art that got me to think and change my perspective.

Lyrically, I adore this EP. I think the songs are performed well. The performances, while not perfect, are raw and real. Compositionally, I think these songs are different from what you’d normally hear and match the content of the lyrics quite well. While I take issue with the production of the EP overall, if the aforementioned interpretation is applied, I accept it and appreciate it. Unfortunately, I feel like there are a lot of people who will have a hard enough time appreciating sparse piano ballads as it is. Add perceived production issues on top of that, and I feel like a lot of people wouldn’t appreciate it. For Provo listeners unfamiliar with Emily Brown, Green Things and This Goes With Us are brilliant albums, and come highly recommended. Her song “Somewhere” from This Goes With Us is a good place to start.

Make sure to like Emily Brown on Facebook. You can stream “The Worst Weekend Ever” below. Emily Frown is available on iTunes and Spotify.

 

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