Not too much is known about E.M.M.A save for her brief association with Sully, her contribution to Keysound’s This is How We Roll compilation, her 2012 debut release Rainbow Dust part II—the first record out on the label arm of London party crew Wavey Tones—and, of course, Jahovia, her recent 7” (and release full stop) on Dusk & Blackdown’s Keysound imprint.
Blue Gardens sees the London-via-Liverpool producer add a feminine, almost “purple” twist to the dark, dread-infused 130bpm bass canon championed so thoroughly by Keysound and co. so far this year. Utilizing future-gazing jungalist riddims that flip with the ease of a Russian gymnast into classic 3-3-2 dancehall patterns, along with hypnotic, 4x4 moombahton-inspired drum work and the occasional hefty house beat, E.M.M.A has carved for herself a fairly unique niche in the somewhat saturated bass market—employing melody and harmony as her weapons of choice, rather than leaning on the ubiquitous, overused memes of dark, disturbed dread that many who follow this genre of music in 2013 seem to expect at the moment (unsurprising given the quality of releases within this BPM bracket presently—Wen, Beneath, HoBL, and Akkord especially coming to mind).
As a result the tunes come across very differently to the aforementioned artists. She doesn’t bog herself down with tech-steppy micro edits or complex bass modulations or even big reverberated drum hits; instead she lets her dulcet tones and apparent mastery of music theory carry her music’s emotional responses. Differing synth sounds pop out of nowhere, taking a melody where a previous sound left off, with her dubby, modular effects serving only as seasoning rather than as the attention-grabbers many producers aim for with their sonic experimentation. In a strange way, continuing on with the food analogy, her music revels in the quality of its ingredients rather than coating them unpalatably with unneeded extras.
The whole album sits together nicely, employing a fairly standard sound palette but utilizing it melodically and interestingly. At points I can hear echoes of old-school Aphex Twin in her writing, especially with her high-pitched lead sounds and pads. Apparently she was surprised by the lack of melody prevalent in ’08-era bass music—something she pledged to alleviate—and alleviate it she has, but whether it will take on within the zeitgeist is another matter entirely.
The stand-out track on the album is the floaty and delicate lead single “Jahovia”, which sees the Liverpudlian collaborate with Double Trouble’s Rebel MC, aiding in the refix of his own early ‘90s classic of the same name—a number which united now retro, dubwise sensibilities with iconic rave and hardcore acculturations, creating a memorable tune that still gets rinsed out today.
Adding a pirate radio twist to proceedings is Rebel MC himself, whose laidback, almost spoken-word delivery seems to sit on top of the mix rather than being buried or tucked away within it, giving the feeling of a live toast on the mutineering airways of London’s buccaneer radio circuit in the early ‘90s—a movement and underground culture so intrinsically linked to the grand linage and evolution of British dance music culture that without it, who knows what music would sound like in 2013? It’s a nice touch that is sure to bring nostalgic memories bubbling up to the surface of those who experienced those pioneering, hedonistic days firsthand.
All things being said, Blue Gardens is really well put-together with love and affection sown directly into its seams. Another future classic from the Keysound camp.