Miss Emily Brown - Wire Wood Wind
Record Label: Self Released
Release Date: March 13th, 2012
Everyone has that one component within a piece of music that they're able to gravitate towards more than any other. It can be as simple as drawing an audience in with lovely high-rising vocal harmonies, or it could all depend on whether the primary songwriter is able to captivate and utterly absorb their listener within the themes and topics that their lyrics touch upon. For me personally, I happen to fall firmly into the latter category. That's not to say that I don't appreciate the countless other facets that go into crafting a beautiful track or a captivating full-length, but the ability to weave a compelling narrative, to recount a distant memory, or even to create a track that embraces the art of a fictional scenario is what I'm often unequivocally drawn towards. Thankfully, there are independent artists such as the lovely, Emily Millard (who performs under the moniker of Miss Emily Brown), that place an enormous amount of emphasis and attention to detail within every individual lyric they put to paper. At times her words are cloaked in metaphorical wordplay, and at other times they're alarmingly direct and intent upon wounding, yet when you also factor in the poetic flair, the inventive instrumentation, and the fleeting traces of nostalgic melancholy found in even her earliest recordings, it becomes clear that Millard's tracks are as inviting as they are beautifully and thoughtfully written.
After releasing her vastly underappreciated debut full-length, Part Of You Pours Out Of Me in the spring of 2008, it marked a relatively quiet entrance into the Canadian independent music scene. However, for those fortunate enough to have stumbled across it, audiences were treated to an unsettling soundscape featuring prominent autoharps, tip-toeing piano lines, and in some cases, even the unmistakable presence of creeping keys. Yet, as splendid as the debut undoubtedly was, it wasn't until the release of her sophomore effort, In Technicolor did the praise and accolades begin to belatedly weave their way towards Millard. The record itself was heavily inspired by, and revolved around the concept of harrowing entries inside of a World War II journal written by Millard's own grandmother. Arguably the finest and most powerful aspect of the album resided in its ability to resonate with not only a mass audience, but also the manner in which it incorporated just enough vibrancy to enclose even the most subdued listener within a historic era where the days were wrought with uncertainty and bleakness. To put it simply, In Technicolor instructed us to thoroughly analyze how the past connects to the future, and it did so with tremendous results.
When the time comes, it may well prove difficult to top such an elegant record. But in the meantime, Miss Emily Brown is preparing to release a special three-track extended play titled, Wire Wood Wind in order to raise the necessary funds it will take to acquire a brand new, custom made autoharp after her previous heirloom was stolen late last summer. The EP, which was recorded two months prior to the instrument having been thieved, was recorded on a beautiful afternoon within a Berlin studio with producer Martyn Heyne (Efterklang, Gyda Valtysdottir), and although it has a duration of merely fourteen minutes, these three tracks could potentially give listeners a tantalizingly brief glimpse in to what could well be the future direction Miss Emily Brown wishes to explore and pursue in her upcoming studio recordings.
The album dazzles immediately with signature autoharp flourishes and the delicate strumming of an acoustic guitar signaling the arrival of album opener, "Man On Wire". There's an unmistakable simplicity ingrained within the production, for you can hear the distant crackling of static and faint echoing vocal effects as Millard's voice dances into the mix. "Black, the forest floor / what was all the flaming for? / Back to ash and soil, breaking down to grow once more." It's a voice that trembles marginally as she fluctuates between a lower register delivery and that of an occasional fleeting falsetto. But as the chorus begins to unfold like a tapestry, as the autoharp is played with a little more urgency and the guitars wail with slightly more purpose, Millard sings with a newfound sense of enlightenment and conviction, "Man on the wire balancing perfectly until he looked down / saw it all so clearly / city parks smoldering, foundations crumbling / she tore the blindfold off, and she showed you everything." Towards the latter portion of the track's five minute duration, there's even subtle organs and minor key piano notes driving "Man On Wire" to its inaudible conclusion, but not before Millard utters one final spirited lyric, "This illusion cannot last."
Before long it quickly becomes apparent that these three tracks are connected by the recurring theme surrounding nature, and there's no finer example found on Wire Wood Wind that emphasizes this more accurately than the utterly compelling, "Back to the Woods". From the moment the first traces of swirling reverb begin to entangle with the familiar and equally welcoming sound of a beautiful autoharp, there's already a lovely atmosphere being conjured. The track deals with the overwhelming need to retreat permanently from the city, to escape and reside within the woods where you have the freedom to live without restriction. That freedom comes across seamlessly throughout the track as Millard sings the opening verse with soaring precision, "Back to the woods, the spell has been broken / a train ride away from Times Square obstruction / in Brooklyn I tried to keep up the pace when we played for free in a punk rock cafe, and slept in an old factory / four walls, no windows and the lead paint was poisoning." As the second verse gradually sweeps in to proceedings, audiences are treated to a searching autoharp solo, finger picking acoustic guitar techniques and thicker, darker reverb - all of which combine to capture a startlingly moving atmosphere. The vivid imagery is only further heightened, and the tempo is momentarily increased when Millard's vocals gleam with a dull sense of resignation as she continues, "Back to the woods, the spell has been reversed 'cause they towed my old truck down under the bridge where the doorways are watered by urine each morning." It's a clear testament to Millard's songwriting prowess for when "Back to the Woods" imminently fades out in that same haze of reverb from which it all began, listeners are never really given a definitive ending to what has just occurred - and there lies its true power. It captivates the listener, it encourages you to live inside of its own unique world for five minutes, it wraps you up in the narrative and then playfully teases you by deciding not to reveal any of its ending or secrets. But most importantly, it encourages you, the listener, to finish the story yourself.
Some may well find fault in the lack of experimentation and versatility of offer throughout Wire Wood Wind, and they would have valid reasoning in doing so. The slow-moving tempo never once changes, the instrumentation is at times too minimalistic, and there's an over-reliance on the usage of autoharp; but it's not entirely unexpected when you take into account that by purchasing this EP, any and all proceeds go straight to the acquisition of a replacement harp - so it's logical to want to showcase it. The other slight criticism stems directly from the costs involved. Whilst Wire Wood Wind is essentially a fundraiser album, the $10 purchasing price (both for a physical copy or a digital download), will undoubtedly alienate some given that there's merely three tracks to be found here. However, if you're looking for some elegant indie/folk tunes with wonderful lyrics, and you want to assist in contributing towards a great cause, Wire Wood Wind is destined to be one of the finest EP's you'll hear during the course of the year. In fact, perhaps Millard won't have to top In Technicolor after all, maybe, just maybe, she already has.