Filed under: album, review | Tags: 2009, emily jane white, matt barton, music
Emily Jane White
Victorian America •••
Emily Jane White’s 2008 debut Dark Undercoat heralded the arrival of a new exponent of the ‘dark-folk’ genre (say what?), and it’s precisely from where that album left off that Victorian America picks up the thread, ambling gloomily along in the same bleeding vein of evocative lyrics and tasteful acoustic arrangements with a melancholic bent. More crucially, it doesn’t really progress White’s aesthetic and suffers an identical fate – sometimes, it’s just too melancholy. Opener ‘Never Dead’ sets the scene with White’s hushed vocals couched in a soft arrangement with acoustic guitar as the centrepiece, bolstered with strings, pedal steel, and, as the song nears its climax, some gentle percussion. It’s fairly conventional stuff, so it’s a relief that the ensuing ‘Stairs’ attempts to show off White’s songwriting skills with twisting rhythms and melodies. The result is relatively freeform and strange but also quite alluring; the cellos lend the song a darkly beautiful yet uneasy and foreboding quality, topped with a spooky vocal and melancholy European feel to its shifting melody.
The title track pares things down to a simple and effective style which, with its much clearer and more accessible melody, is one of the album’s success stories. Other highlights on Victorian America include ‘Frozen Heart’, which trades the acoustic guitar-dominated arrangements for a piano foundation. It’s wonderfully elegant, with a lovely, sad refrain that sits on the right side of depressing. The coupling of ‘Red Serpent’, a haunting bluesy number reminiscent of Sinead O’Connor, with the similarly-titled ‘Red Dress’, an ominous and portentous statement of doom rather than a Sugababes cover, is also a nice touch. Elsewhere, ‘The Country Life’ ventures towards the upbeat, adding a slightly more jolly countrified air to proceedings.
Ultimately though, these pleasures don’t wholly compensate for the drawbacks that really bog Victorian America down. Too many of these songs are much too wispy and dull to make any lasting impressions, and White’s voice, while pretty enough, is fairly unremarkable. The arrangements are not sufficiently varied to sustain interest throughout, and this is particularly troublesome when the material is overlong – ‘The Ravens’, for instance, doesn’t just border on being overly and unnecessarily bleak, it tips the scales at over seven minutes of dejection. While this unrelentingly serious and earnest atmosphere may well keep Victorian America from being one of those albums you’ll return to with any frequency, it’s still a solid record for those of a stronger emotional disposition and with enough good material – ‘Stairs’, ‘Victorian America’, ‘Frozen Heart’, the pretty ‘A Shot Rang Out’ – to warrant investigation. But if she is to grow and develop as an artist, White will need to incorporate more variety into her records and cut out some of the filler.
UK release date: 12/10/09; www.myspace.com/emilyjanewhite
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