To label Emmy the Great as an anti-folk staple is much like calling a ball round. That much is obvious, but in the sheer vastness of Moss’ encompassing career and sound, it would be a disservice to call her just that. In the case of Emma-Lee Moss’ first full studio release in five years, Second Love, the beloved itinerant wanderer finds herself expanding further into postmodern musicality with, thematically speaking, analyses of technology and its effect on the world in terms of love and heartbreak.
Dark subject matter marries ironically twee arrangements and vocal deliverances once again, making for some distinctively “Emmy” subject material straight out of the gate, but the abundances of electric, full-bodied musical influences remain abound throughout Second Love in a way most unlike the girth of her previous efforts. Perhaps it’s been Moss’ extended travels throughout Los Angeles, New York, Hong Kong, and other achingly modern cities in her years between releases that have extended her sound into previously unexplored avenues in her latest release.
Opening track “Swimming Pool” maintains lush variances of synth-based percussion and bassy nu hip-hop backing vocals alongside a muted, resonant acoustic guitar that seems to perfectly sum up the dichotomy between her earlier efforts and her latest contribution to her overarching portfolio. Follow-up “Less Than Three” carries a heftier amount of her trademark sarcasm, with repetitious lyricism and a downtempo, groovy chill separating it significantly from her previous work altogether. “Algorithm” and “Hyperlink” seem to maintain similar themes of abhorring today’s “romance” tying handily into modern tech, again shellacked with layers of downplayed, bombacious synth.
Later tracks on the album follow similar form, but in varying ways. “Constantly” is a lament once again set against the advancement of technology, but this time, it’s set specifically against the social muting that seems to have followed millions of millennials at the dawn of social media, with a pleasant, if not foreboding, guitar riff setting the mood. Not unlike the ground covered between “Algorithm” and “Hyperlink”, “Social Halo” follows in homologous suit from “Constantly” in its themes, though with more of a satirical twist as Moss makes it a point to slyly point a prodding finger towards a few good current-day trends.
Later tracks emanate, of course, a distinguishable yet strikingly similar set of themes and sounds; in particular, Moss introduces a breezy, postmodern vibe in “Never Go Home” and goes 8-bit in “Dance w Me”. Elsewhere, she summons a haunting groove in “Shadow Lawns”. “Part of Me” is chockful of sunshine to the point that you’d almost think she would throw us yet another deceptive, ironic curveball, but it’s ultimately a fairly straightforward admittance of love. This theme cedes well into album closer, “Lost in You”, which has its heart in the right place, but might be overdrawn in an album where striking simplicity may have been the best way to separate it from the others.
As most have already echoed, however, it is “Phoenixes”, with its endearing and emotional austerity reflecting hiraeth for one’s teenage years—the must-listen in an album full of must-listens, if you will. Second Loves is not without its growing pains, but it’s that Moss still finds big ways to surprise us while keeping true to her overall character as an artist that remains impressive. It wouldn’t be a tremendous stretch to call this one out as her most expansive and interesting record, yet, if not her best. All-in-all, Second Loves is well worth peeling back the layers of upon a strong handful of listens.
"PopMatters is looking for smart music writers. We're looking for talented writers with deep genre knowledge of music and its present and…READ the article