By Mike Romero
Emily Brown is 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. They’re definitely leagues above standard lyricism, and can be read on their own as pure poetry. The song is about foolishly accepting flattery from an untrustworthy lover. 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.”
Beautiful. 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. You can hear the piano bench creaking and the pedals shifting on an upright piano. 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. The fact that this distortion is present at various points throughout the rest of the EP is indicative of an intentional choice that I wholeheartedly disagree with. Instead of a pleasant distortion that adds grit and intensity, like a tube distortion, this feels harsh like an unintended digital distortion.
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 her record 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 controversial production decisions.
“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’s a close second and features the best production.
“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. As with the first track, I’ll include a portion of the lyrics because they need to be appreciated as literature:
“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 made 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.” This record is a raw, at times uncomfortable listen. It lets 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. 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. Props to Emily and the team at Studio Studio Dada that worked on the album for creating a work of art that got me to think and challenge my perspectives.
Lyrically, I adore this EP. I think the songs are performed well. The performances 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, I accept it and appreciate it. Unfortunately, I feel like there are a lot of people who will have a hard time appreciating these songs due to the challenging production choices. 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. I’d recommend experiencing these records first before tackling Emily Frown to get the full impact of this record. It’s best appreciated in context of her full discography.