Monday, 31 March 2014

Live This Sound: It's Up To Emma

Every once in a while, a record comes around that consumes you. It fills your waking hours. You think about it during the day, and you play it on constant repeat at night. You don't want to just listen to it - you want to have it within you, any way you can. You want to watch it; to read it; to swallow it whole. It's a 'classic album', sure, but more than that, it won't leave your head, and, all things considered, you don't want it to. Live this Sound is a regular section of this site that allows you to experience a single album as many ways as you possibly can. This week, we take a look at It's Up To Emma, English singer/song writer Scout Niblett's latest offering, and the myriad of ways you can enjoy its sparse beauty.

The Album.

If you haven't dived into the starkly powerful world of Scout Niblett yet, then It's Up to Emma is a great place to start. Not to say that this, her most recent album, is any more 'commercial' than her others - her beautiful voice still teeters on the brink of absolute hysteria, and at times the music seems like it will collapse under the weight of its own great pain - but the sound here is definitely fuller. Whereas her style in the past has been relentlessly minimalist (the best example being her song "Your Beat Kicks Back Like Death" - a track that is little more than a relentless drum beat, and Niblett singing "we're all gonna die" over, and over) It's Up To Emma offers more sonic depth than any of her other records. It's an initially surprising change for any of Niblett's long term fans, but it's never a distancing one. Instead, it is the sign of a singer pushing herself into new territory - never abandoning her true self, but still testing everything that has come before.
It's stark, it's beautiful, it's terrifying and it's powerful - in short, it's an overlooked classic that demands your attention.
How To Eat This Album.
It's Up To Emma is an album that manages to be direct without ever being simple - even if the songs don't fuck around, it would be foolish to underestimate their broad textures and tastes. As a result, you need a recipe that's not too flowery, but not too 'meat and two veg' either. For the fish eaters out there, trout is the way to go, particularly when cooked in accordance with these directions:
For the full blooded meat eaters, veal has all the necessary cruelty and beauty for an album like this, particularly when the fillet is balanced with the subtle bite of lemon.
How To Drink This Album.
You'd have to be fairly imaginative to call Niblett's music 'sweet' - although she is capable of great tenderness, her tracks never descend into bubbly warmth. Instead, hers is a complicated kind of kindness: blunt, but encompassing.
As a result, most cocktails are out - on the whole, they're far too sugary for the hard edge of It's Up To Emma. However, it's hard to beat the complicated textures of a good Bloody Mary, a fantastic recipe for which can be found here:
If you want the true It's Up To Emma experience, go heavy on the pepper - it's the best way to replicate the album's crackly power.
All that said, I've always found it hard to comfortably drink Bloody Mary's at night: they've always struck me as a late afternoon "dear god I'm still hungover" drink. So, if you're partaking in It's Up to Emma in the evening (which, you probably should - the whole album takes on a creepy resonance if it's played at about two in the morning) then a good Old Fashioned will help you soak the sound up. It's definitely sweeter than a Bloody Mary, but it's never downright sugary, and it still has that brutal edge that you need.
How To Watch This Album.
Lodge Kerrigan's masterpiece Clean, Shaven is almost impossible to find unless you're ready to fork out the hefty fee for the Criterion Collection edition. But, the effort (and price) is worth the wait.
The film is the story of Peter, a schizophrenic on a doomed journey to 'rescue' his daughter from the woman who has adopted her. It is one of the most terrifyingly brilliant depictions of mental illness ever put to the screen: Kerrigan works hard to portray the pain and terror of the affliction, while never making Peter a pathetic or 'damaged' character. Like It's Up to Emma this is a bleak, difficult work, but like It's Up To Emma it has its own beauty and forgiveness too.
Another of It's Up To Emma's cinematic siblings is The Consequences of Love, an Italian film directed by Paolo Sorrentino, the man currently riding the surprise success of his Oscar winning The Great Beauty. The Consequences of Love's trailer can be found below, but it's pretty awful. It basically tries to make the film look like an action packed sex romp, which it most definitely isn't. On the contrary, it is a bleak, stylish take on the thriller genre, with a pace that could fairly be described as 'considered.'
Niblett and Sorrentino share a strong sense of pace: they're not the kind of artists who want to rush anything, and as a result, their offerings  are full of hidden rewards.
How To Read this Album.
Short stories are the way to go here. Niblett is a painfully direct artist, a trait she has in common with American writers like Raymond Carver, John Cheever, and Richard Yates. All three are the kind of authors who brutally, beautifully hook you into their world. You only need to read a single one of their stories to get yourself addicted, and before you know what's happening, you're consuming their entire back catalogue; hunting down their life stories down on the internet; and even watching the consistently crap film adaptations of their work.
Of them all, Carver is probably the author who shares Niblett's stark minimalism the closest, and his collection Elephant is arguably the greatest volume of short stories published in recent memory. That said, you can't go wrong with John Cheever's career spanning Collected Stories or Richard Yates' Liars in Love.

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