E.M.M.A. LA Mermaid

[Astral Plane; 2017]

Styles: grime, ambience, alien encounters, cut glass, silk
Others: Yamaneko, Yaroze Dream Suite, Loom

E.M.M.A.’s music reminds me of the aliens in Arrival. Her tracks stand at a remove, imposing and grand. With opaque intentions, they drift: deliberate, purposeful, patient. This is music that can be grasped, but not held. If, like Amy Adams, I was able to push through the haze surrounding LA Mermaid and touch one of its textured objects, I can imagine it would feel like holding a precious stone wrapped in lace; its synths glittering like cut glass, its bass billowing like silk. Subtle and diaphanous, this is a grime focused on ambience, one that feels aqueous and rich, one that paints wide vistas of sound and plumbs unexplored depths, all filigreed with precise, nuanced emotion. After a few years away from the spotlight, bar the game-changing Producer Girls workshops and the essential Angel Food radio show with Aimee Cliff, it’s good to have E.M.M.A. back.

LA Mermaid begins with “Magna Kanye’s” slow, rolling build. Vaporous arpeggios are buttressed by curt drum hits, as cymbals splash fluidly and the bass aims straight for the chest. The Kanye sample (“That’s great man, that’s the easy way out; this is my fight, my battle”) tees up the heart of the track: a chiming chord progression that emerges, hulking, from the mist. Atmospheric and resonant, even a little spooky — its contrapuntal, interlocked melodies taking turns to sway into the foreground before shimmering into silence. It’s an arresting beginning to the EP, sketching out the sonic and affective spaces in which the other tracks dwell.

“Pyramids” picks up where “Magna Kanye’s” ghostly momentum left off, as flat and wide keys, effervescent hi-hats, and weighted claps drip downward and pool together, forming a crystalline structure that probes and expands. The track unfolds smoothly, one part easily giving way to the next, the melodic routes of the synth chiming with a spectral grandeur, rolling outward like great gusts of wind. The title track plots a different route, exchanging bright horizons for a damp plunge downward. Gently reverberating keys — thick with haze — brush against a plosive snare as lilts of melody flurry like falling snow. Its subterranean mien is reminiscent of some of Yamaneko’s recent work, its graceful, slow movements ever so gently cupped by a slow motion, pulsing two-step beat. The perfect soundtrack for spelunking.

“Bijoux de Diamantes” resurfaces, carrying some dankness with it, as a glassy melody wraps its way around a droning horn, hollow point bass hits, and a finely detailed hi-hat-and-clap combination. Like “Pyramids,” the track blooms, agglomerating layered moods into a shimmering affective carapace, the smooth undulations of its melodies meshing with its stuttering beat. It pushes insistently outward with a slow finesse, its reverberating keys at the vanguard of its exploratory mission. As it gestures toward new spaces yet unseen, a subtle melancholy limns its edges, detectable in the slight twists of its main melodic line and the velvet textures that undergird it.

Finally, we’re left with the repetitive thud of “Cobalt’s” helicopter blade-synths, which are duly joined by vaporous percussive exhalations and a gravelly beat that digs and churns. Like its cousin-tracks, “Cobalt” moves slowly, gliding toward the midway mark, at which point a cymbal hit knocks the track’s undercarriage out from under it, leaving us suspended an inch above the ether, with just the dull thud of a kick for support. And then the main melodic line comes into focus, in finely shaped waves and with a dreamy ease, and you find yourself humming along; it’s gorgeous and calming and airy, and you think that perhaps you’ve got a handle on this ephemeral music that floats and bobs and sways. But you don’t, so you sit back and wait patiently for the next transmission from planet E.M.M.A. to swim through the murk and command our human attention.

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