[11.7.06] [Andrew Gallix]
3:AM REVIEW: emBROWNLOWe's Flight
"emBROWNLOWe has yet to find recognition among music fans around the world," writes Richard O'Brien, "and it's a sad fact that this record's sombre beauty is unlikely to set her on the path to stadiums. However, what it may just do is tangle a few more listeners, one at a time, into her richly-atmospheric web"
emBROWNLOWe's Flight is an album that defies easy categorisation. The Portland, Oregon-based solo artist flits through genres like the British Cabinet goes through reshuffles, describing her sound in her own press pack as, rather incongruously, "indie, folk rock, electro". However, all these terms could happily be applied to emBROWNLOWe's music, as well as many more. Indie conjures up unwelcome images of an army of identikit young men playing choppy post-punk below designer fringes, but in this instance it works when returned to its original meaning. Flight is a strong independent statement of an intent not to conform to anyone's musical standards -- so much so that emBROWNLOWe has chosen to self-release.
The album begins with 'Daarek''s chunky descending bass, segueing into sharp electronic drums and a melancholic guitar pattern, before falling open to leave emBROWNLOWe's breathy, versatile voice swimming up from an abyss of strings. The first impression made on the listener is one of uneasy soul, but the track ends on a simple, clean chug of guitar and refuses to sit in such a tight pigeonhole. 'Discotheque' lives up to its name, as Goldfrapp-style vocal gasps and a throbbing dance bass lead the listener through four minutes of relentless techno decadence, augmented by what may well be some rather sinister maracas.
Following the title-track's processed guitars and sexily throaty mantra of "I've seen you buzzing around", the dance elements drop out a little, allowing 'The Snake Charmer''s gypsy-folk inclinations to roam free. There's still pulsing drum programming, but it serves as a counterpoint to the track's Eastern instrumentation, giving a modern edge to those ominous inflections. 'The Long Round Ahead' sees Brownlow dripping honey over a taut 'Wipeout'-style riff, exhorting the listener to 'get moving' with a dash of ice-cool femme-punk creeping into the mix. She expresses her sultry wish to "sing to you at night" on 'The Thought Of You', slowing down the tempo for a slice of dark minimalist psychedelia as multi-layering effects allow her to harmonise with her own voice.
The instrumental 'Lady Of The Universe' displays the influence of Radiohead circa OK Computer in its expansive guitar lines, before putting emBROWNLOWe's assured voice centre stage on the drum-thumping 'Washerwoman Blues', singing a wordless summery descant over shimmering strings.
The detuned opening riff of 'Conflict Of Interest' owes something to the grunge era, morphing into a cooing foray into garage-rock, before changing once again to a mix of mournful horns and propulsive drums. It sounds weird, and it is -- the album is all over the place, and emBROWNLOWe does an impressive job for the most part of holding it together. 'All We Can Do Is Question Everything We've Been Told' starts in a similar vein, moaning lyrics like "you don't know why Jesus died" over a two-note bass riff and chiming guitar. As the song progresses the sound gets fuller and deeper, surrounding her haunting vocals in a dense canopy of sound.
Although this is listed as the last track, listeners should make sure not to miss secret addition 'April Showers', which is both the simplest and one of the best songs on the album. In a weary purr, emBROWNLOWe sings softly about her "dream of Californian sunshine", letting her full range show, backed only by a quietly-picked guitar. A strong, memorable chorus cements the dark, sparse power of the track, before a subtle minor melody carries us out of Flight's moody, noirish world.
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
Richard O'Brien was born in Peterborough in 1990, and has been trying to escape ever since. He is currently still trying to get an education, and resides in a Lincolnshire village with his parents and his labradors with nautical names. He likes to act, listen to music, and write songs that will never be sung.