A Journal Of The Dark Arts
Like a pointilist painting, life can be difficult to make sense of when you’re close to it. Sometimes, it requires shaking things up, going somewhere new, where you don’t know anyone, where you’re not drowning in the ghosts of the past.
Have you ever had the experience of moving to a new city, all by your lonesome? Or even just an extended stay? Like Sophia Coppola Lost In Translation, there is a certain existentialism to floating through a strange place, feeling detached and disassociated. It can be lonely as hell, but there is a liberation in going where no one knows your name. You can be anyone you like, this time around. You are free.
On her third album, Melbourne singer/songwriter Emma Russack takes inspiration from transplanting to go back to university to take stock of her Self, her life, her history, her hopes, her loves, and all the things that make her who she is, over the span of 10 charming, chiming, moody, pulsing guitar-centric Indie songs.
Album opener “Cottesloe” finds Russack remembering idyllic days, floating on her back in the ocean in Perth – gentle, rippling guitar arpeggios; warm, hushed vocals; with a dreamy slow waltz beat kicking in, as Russack decides to stop worrying, to stop being so uptight “about poor ticket sales that night”. It’s a languid, hazy summer jam about lazing in the sun, about staying present and being free, which sets the tone for the album to come. The slow beat and rippling guitars bring to mind the miniature Dream Pop of Beach House, whom Russack bears a strong sonic resemblance to, overlaid with a bit of lo-fi Grandaddy burbling synths.
There are numerous soundalikes Russack could be compared to, particularly in the realm of dreamy, introspective Indie Rock. Russack’s guitar tone, one of the most standout aspects of her music, brings to mind vintage lo-fi axeslingers like early P. J. Harvey or Cat Power, while her occasional bouts of jazziness bringing to mind the faded glory of True Detective songbird Lera Lynn. Occasional lashings of spooky country/soul bring to mind the damned, blaster Americana of Chelsea Wolfe or Marissa Nadler, along with their influences, like Leonard Cohen.
You’re starting to get the picture – sometimes jazzy, sometimes folky lo-fi guitar Indie Rock. You’ll notice, however, that most of the bands on that list are some of the best that there are, and Russack belongs amidst their ranks. Emma Russack’s guitar tone is deliriously lonesome, deliciously plaintive. She jangles, she lounges, she pulses, in the most mysterious of ways. There is a glory to a spare and unadorned electric guitar, like on the quietly epic “Narooma”, with Russack’s scorching slow-burn rhythmic pulse meeting harrowing, haunted backing vocals, like a pack of wolves baying at a blood moon.
“I’m so glad some things never change,” sings Russack, as a stinging fadeout to “Narooma”. When one changes things up, switches things out, it’s possible to tell what’s constant. Ironically, when life changes drastically and dramatically, your own self becomes more stable and solid. Russack’s soul-searching has been good for her music, leaving us with 10 glorious tracks of growing older and getting to know one’s self. It’s important work; we can’t do anything without. She also takes the time to get to know her instruments and her songs, fleshing out her ghostly, wistful Indie Rock with countless little details, interesting harmonies, lush production and heartfelt stories.
In A New State is one of the finest moody, emotive, introspective guitar albums I’ve heard in a minute – perfect for the drooping, wilting last days of summer.
Emma Russack’s In A New State is out now on Spunk Records.
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Tune into every Sunday night/Monday morning for Morningstar: The Light In The Darkness @ Freeform Portland! Exploring the dark side of techno, hip-hop, shoegaze, metal, psych, folk, and soundtrack. You can listen to the archives online at mixcloud.com/for3stpunk.