Emika, Emika

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In a recent interview for Crack, Emika made an illuminating observation: “Something I’m quite interested to open up for discussion is what electronic music actually is, because I don’t believe I make electronic music. I sing, and I record everything, lots of acoustic sounds and I record my piano. If you want to be academic about it, technically it’s electro-acoustic.” Her self-titled debut is an excellent example of how the lines can become blurred between acoustic and electronic music, as it certainly sounds electronically produced, full of deep bass, soaring synths, highly effected vocals, and artificial drums. Traditionally those are all the hallmarks of electronic music, but when they are all recorded by a singer-songwriter who worked as a sound designer for software company Native Instruments, the traditional becomes something altogether more complicated and interesting.

The focus on recorded sounds in relation to dance music can be traced to Emika’s project Fünf for Ostgut Ton, in which she recorded the sounds of the empty Berghain/Panorama Bar and distributed them to the label’s roster, who then crafted whole songs from them. For her, this project was all about the sounds of the space and what happens when they are put into a different context. Emika is similarly an album about sounds and spaces, with haunting, fragile vocals that flit through wide open rhythms and melodies that echo resoundingly over top. While opener, “3 Hours,” sounds very much the product of software with its rolling bass lines and syncopated drums, there are bits of piano that have the quality of manipulated recordings. This technique comes into its own on “Common Exchange.” All of the sounds seem natural but manipulated all at once. The drums could be treefalls, the melody sounds like someone banging on water pipes, and the bass hums with a fluidity not found on “3 Hours.” There is an industrial edge to the composition, with repeated phrases and angular rhythms anchoring the textured sound design.

Two of the most successful meetings of electro and acoustic recording are the album singles “Double Edge” and “Drop The Other.” The former is an instantly classic meld of beautiful songwriting, recorded instruments and electronic manipulation. Skittering vocals convey the dual nature of the song’s lyrics while enforcing the two sides of the song’s elements — pulsing bass drums brushing up against delicate pianos and broken voices. Like “Count Backwards,” the song has a bluesy quality that revolves around the downturned voice of Emika. “Drop The Other” subverts this with Kahn-esque R&B vocal stutters and an upbeat tempo with bright instrumentation. The piano is recorded and broken apart, reformatted for the swinging beat, like a Teddy Riley sample flip but used more as texture than melody.

Emika also has a gothic side, as shown on songs like “Pretend” and “The Long Goodbye,” the latter sounding like atmospheric dubstep stretched to the breaking point under Siouxsie-style vocals. These songs push the singer-songwriter aspect of Emika to the forefront, emphasizing her voice and the composition rather than the bass or sound design elements. “Professional Loving” is a fragile piece of delicate songwriting while “Come Catch Me” is almost pop music in its catchy hook and forward momentum. Almost inevitably, Emika strips away all the electronics and semblance to dance music for the finale “Credit Theme,” a sad solo piano number that succinctly creates the impression of watching a film roll up in a darkened theater, leaving you to ponder what you just witnessed. Emika’s debut album is a compelling statement for the singer-songwriter’s place in electronic music, with catchy heights and emotional lows.

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